TikTok plans to direct anyone searching for vaccine information on the app to a dedicated in-app hub.
- TikTok is stamping down on vaccine misinformation, introducing a new content screen for videos that might be harmful, and clarifying its rules worldwide.
- The announcements came on the same day when the UK government warned of a "new age of accountability" for social media.
- Social-media platforms operating in the UK could be fined 10% of global turnover for not following the rules.
- "It is more important than ever to ensure that misinformation that could harm wider public safety is not allowed to proliferate online," Kevin Morgan of TikTok said.
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TikTok has announced a suite of changes meant to tackle vaccine misinformation, clarify rules about the app, and protect users from questionable content.
As part of the three announcements, the company said that starting December 21 it would roll out information banners on any TikTok videos that mention vaccines. The company said the banners would direct users to verifiable sources of information.
Business Insider has previously reported on the rise of vaccine skeptics on social media and the UK government's concerns about their rise.
In addition to the information banner, TikTok says it will direct anyone searching for vaccine information on the app to a dedicated in-app hub filled with reputable information from sources such as the World Health Organization. The vaccine hub is expected to be accessible starting Thursday.
"We know it is more important than ever to ensure that misinformation that could harm wider public safety is not allowed to proliferate online," said Kevin Morgan, TikTok's head of product and process in Europe.
Tech firms face fines of 10% of global turnover for misinformation
TikTok announced the news on a day when the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport unveiled new proposals for its Online Harms Bill, which would require Big Tech to protect users or face punitive fines.
The proposals include requirements to limit illegal content such as child sex abuse and terrorist material.
One of the proposals in the government's bill is around vaccine disinformation and misinformation: The bill includes a requirement for social-media platforms to enforce "clear terms and conditions which explicitly state how they will handle content which is legal but could cause significant physical or psychological harm to adults." The department specifically highlighted vaccine disinformation and misinformation as one area.
Companies that do not follow those rules could be fined up to 10% of their annual global turnover or 18 million pounds - roughly $24 million - depending on which is higher.
Ruth Smeeth, the CEO of Index on Censorship, warned that the proposals could have consequences for free speech. "These proposals could establish a different legal framework for speech online as opposed to down the pub and could have a significant chilling effect on our right to free expression," she said. "After all, no one is going to be fined for deleting too much content."
TikTok's vaccine hub is set to go live on the same day Theo Bertram, the company's director of government relations and public policy in Europe, is scheduled to speak in front of the House of Commons' Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
TikTok also boosts support around mental-health concerns
At the same time, TikTok has rewritten some of its community guidelines, the rules by which people operate on the app. The company has taken the advice of mental-health experts to overhaul policies on self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders.
The change in eating-disorder policy came the day before TikTok was to appear in front of lawmakers for the Commons' Women and Equalities Committee about body image.
In the next week, TikTok also plans to roll out new features to direct people struggling with mental-health concerns to support. "Now, if someone searches for terms like 'selfharm' or 'hatemyself,' they'll see evidence-based actions they can take," said Cormac Keenan, the head of trust and safety at TikTok in Europe. "As before, access to Samaritans is available for emergency support."
Following negative headlines about safety concerns involving some of the challenges proliferating among TikTok's younger users, the app has also bolstered its policy to limit, label, or remove content promoting dangerous challenges or acts. "We encourage people to be creative and have fun, but not at the expense of an individual's safety, or the safety of others," Keenan said.
The app is also introducing a new feature: opt-in viewing screens, which the company says will block potentially harmful or contentious videos that do not fall foul of TikTok rules, requiring users to say they're willing to see content that might be challenging.
The opt-in screen will appear on top of a video and give users the option to watch it or skip it without seeing it, the company says. The screen could appear on some educational videos that feature images of surgery, for example, or violent content that is not banned by the app.