ByteDance's Indonesian news app refutes anti-China censorship allegations

Chinese tech giant ByteDance has been accused of censoring content it perceived as critical of the Chinese government on its news aggregator app in Indonesia called Baca Berita (BaBe) from 2018 to mid-2020, said sources from Reuters. Refuting the claim to Marketing Interactive, a BaBe spokesperson said, in the early days, before it was able to take on a more localised approach as it does now,  it had "some moderation practices in place that were not consistent with its philosophy of having the Indonesian team deciding what is appropriate for its market." 

"These guidelines were replaced in 2019 and we’ve since built and empowered local moderation teams to make decisions that suit the local market," the spokesperson added. The Indonesian news aggregator app was purchased by ByteDance in 2018 after the country briefly banned Chinese video app TikTok for containing pornography and inappropriate content.

Following this acquisition, Reuters reported that local Indonesian moderators were instructed by a team from ByteDance’s Beijing headquarters to delete articles seen as “negative” about Chinese authorities on the BaBe app. In a statement to Reuters, BaBe said it disagreed with the claims, adding that it moderated content according to its community guidelines and in line with Indonesia’s local laws. Those guidelines, which are published on its website, do not mention China or the Chinese government.  

However, Reuter’s sources reported that the moderation guidelines for BaBe, which used artificial intelligence to aggregate stories from hundreds of Indonesian media outlets, were crafted by a team from ByteDance’s Beijing headquarters. It was added that BaBe moderators were told not publish any articles on the TikTok ban while negotiations with the Indonesian government were underway. The reason behind these moderations were attributed to the company wanting a “non-political happy tone for the app”.

Recently there have been many political issues arising around ByteDance and TikTok. TikTok recently stole the spotlight from Facebook as the Trump administration contemplated banning the app in the US over data privacy concerns. This came shortly after the video sharing social app made headlines for recently exiting the Hong Kong market after the announcement of the national security law, and was banned in India at the end of June, along with 58 other Chinese apps. Separately, ByteDance launched its own music streaming app called Resso in Indonesia. This came following Resso’s launch into the India market earlier in March and was targeted at Gen Z and Millennials. 

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