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Helena Lersch, director, global public policy, TikTok.
Helena Lersch, director, global public policy, TikTok.

We will keep on investing in Indian users: TikTok’s Helena Lersch

  • In conversation with TikTok director (global public policy) Helena Lersch on the India TikTok ban
  • Madras high court has banned TikTok on grounds that it is promoting pornographic content

New Delhi: Social media platform TikTok, which claims over 200 million Indian users, is facing a ban against new downloads. As the company awaits the final verdict from the Madras high court, Mint spoke with Helena Lersch, director, global public policy, TikTok, about how the company is dealing with the developments. Edited excerpts:

Despite having various safety features, why is TikTok being accused of promoting pornographic content?

First of all, I think you need to look into who is accusing us. It’s not the government. It’s someone in the south of India who has been accusing us.

There’s no pornographic content on the platform. We have zero tolerance for pornographic content. That is why I remain very hopeful for tomorrow’s (24 April) decision. I think our full compliance with the IT Act will be recognized tomorrow.

Do you think there could be a problem in how pornographic content is being defined in India, given that a majority of TikTok’s audience is from small towns?

That might be true. But to stop pornographic content, we updated our community guidelines back in November, and added a section just for India, which allows even less skin. Our artificial intelligence (AI) tools can detect skin and we’re showing very little skin in India.

The other solution is to have a local content moderation team in India, so that when they review content, they’re applying the right cultural and socio-economic mindset to the content they’re seeing in India. Our content moderation team in India speaks 15 languages. We’re heavily investing in the content moderation team.

How big is the Indian content moderation team?

We’re not breaking those numbers down by country right now. However, by the end of 2019 we will have 1,000 employees in India and 25% of that is just content moderation.

Every platform has used AI and content moderation teams, but has still faced issues. Are your algorithms on a par with Facebook, Twitter, etc.? What more can you do?

I think we have industry-leading tools and we’re following industry standards, if not more. We have some tools, such as the restricted mode and risk tech, which not many other platforms have. What more can be done is a question that is raised globally (for all other platforms too), and it’s a responsibility of both the users and the platforms to find an approach to this. I think users also have a responsibility in what they upload and what they are seeing.

Can you stop inappropriate videos from being uploaded?

We have an AI filter that runs across videos and can immediately determine if a video is inappropriate. But, there is also a human review team.

So, yes, we can make sure that we check some videos before they get uploaded to the platform.

What happens if users violate your internal code of conduct on TikTok?

If we detect inappropriate content in real time, then the content just doesn’t get uploaded. If you get reported three times then you’re blocked.

TikTok is evidently being downloaded from other platforms. If you do get banned here, forever, do you plan to continue servicing those users or just shut operations in India?

We have 200 million existing users, which is a huge number. Obviously, we will keep on investing in these users and we will keep on working with them. The order is on new downloads, not on existing users.

Have you faced issues like this in other markets?

Not as much. This is a very particular case.

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