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TikTok’s reported LGBTQ+ Kenya censorship plan shows its hypocrisy

TikTok chiefs and Kenyan authorities are reportedly in talks about censoring LGBTQ+ content on the platform in the country, after a Kenyan petitioner called for the video-sharing app to be banned for promoting ‘inappropriate’ content.

It’s nice to imagine the TikTok suits telling officials in Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal and consensual same-sex sex acts carry prison terms of up to 14 years, to stuff their censorship demands in these talks. However, with Washington Blade reporting that a regulation plan is already in the works, this seems unlikely. Kenya is an important market for TikTok, with Reuters Institute reporting that 54 percent of its 53 million-strong population uses it.

TikTok has not publicly commented on the mooted Kenya LGBTQ+ censorship plan (SEXTECHGUIDE has asked the company for comment and will update with any response). When tech companies comply with harmful and oppressive regulations like this, and are forced to comment due to a backlash, they usually mumble some corporate-speak about having to comply with local laws.

https://www.tiktok.com/@outandproudafricanlgbti/video/7210874179296447750?embed_source=121355059%2C121351166%2C121331973%2C120811592%2C120810756%3Bnull%3Bembed_blank&refer=embed&referer_url=screenshot-media.com%2Fpolitics%2Flgbtqi-rights%2Ftiktok-ban-lgbtqia-kenya%2F&referer_video_id=7210874179296447750

The implicated line is often: ‘We have no choice’. But TikTok does have a choice: to refuse, maintain basic values of free expression and human rights, then face the consequences of doing so, even if it means being blocked in an entire country. What if there was a local law decreeing that tech bosses have to live-stream themselves inserting pineapples into their asses on the first Monday of each month? Would they mutter something about ‘complying with regulations’ while the fruit’s hard outer shards turned their perineum into pulled pork? Most would, we assume, say a firm “no” to this local regulation.

If the censorship plan does go ahead, don’t mistake my outrage for shock. In 2019, it was reported that TikTok was censoring gay rights-related content in countries such as Turkiye, which may have conservative cultures but don’t outlaw homosexuality. The platform has in the past blocked criticism of some ruling authoritarian politicians. TikTok’s parent firm, Bytedance, runs a separate Chinese version of the app that censors criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and plus facts about its human rights abuses. This is not simply being sensitive to local values; in China TikTok is a quirky dance video-focused tool helping the CCP dictatorship cover up alleged crimes against humanity.

A man and woman are engrossed in their cell phones.

Pandering to authoritarian governments hardly makes TikTok unique in the corporate field, and the sad fact is that most users of the app don’t care enough about such issues to boycott it, or even discuss it publicly. And while any forthcoming LGBTQ+ TikTok content ban in Kenya would just be the latest such incident of such pandering, it would at least further highlight the hypocrisy of corporations like ByteDance running what are presented to the world as open communications platforms.

On Tuesday (October 10, 2023) TikTok spaffed out a press release about “supporting our community this World Mental Health Day and beyond” and asked users to post the #MentalHealthAwareness hashtag.

If this Kenya ban does go ahead, I have a more appropriate hashtag suggestion: #TikTokBossesStickAPineappleUpYourAss.

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Jamie F
Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice, among others. He is also the creative force behind the Audible podcast Beast Master.

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