By Vanessa Pappas, General Manager, TikTok US
As a platform that brings joy to millions of users, our goal is to develop industry-leading policies and community tools that also make TikTok the safest platform for our users. Today we want to provide an update on some of the recent steps we've taken toward these efforts.
Growing our local presence
As TikTok expands around the world, we're committed to building local teams that can help ensure our decisions and operations reflect the diverse communities we serve. Over the past year, we've grown to over 400 employees in the US who support and foster the app experience, and last month we moved into a new home in Los Angeles. The new space that reflects our creative, fun spirit and is large enough to house our talented, passionate, and growing team as we scale our local operations. We're also building out our team in places like New York City, San Francisco, Mountain View, and Austin.
Expanding our expertise
In conjunction with building our physical presence, we’ve made key hires to expand our expertise in vitally important areas. Some of our key US-based leadership hires in 2019 spanned functions including product, safety, content, music, sales, and operations. For example, our US-based safety team has grown considerably over the last year, including hiring a Head of Safety and a strong team of leaders in LA as we scale to better protect our users.
Our Trust & Safety hub in the San Francisco Bay Area has also grown and now sits alongside similar hubs in Dublin and Singapore. Our global safety teams comprise experienced industry professionals whose backgrounds span product, policy, compliance, child safety, law, privacy, and NGOs. These dedicated hubs are focused on strengthening policies, technologies, and moderation strategies and ensuring that they complement both local culture and context. Our Trust & Safety leaders collaborate closely with regional regulators, policymakers, government, and law enforcement agencies in our pursuit to promote the highest possible standard of user safety.
In just the past few weeks, we welcomed Erich Andersen, an IP policy, compliance and legal expert with 20 years of industry experience, as our Global General Counsel, and announced that Michael Beckerman, an experienced tech policy expert, will join us as Head of Government Relations and Policy. These hires add even more depth to our already phenomenal team, helping us continue to tackle the various and ever-evolving issues that TikTok and the entire industry face.
Strengthening our youth safety efforts
TikTok is an app with a broad reach and we care deeply about the safety of our users, particularly our younger teens. That’s why we recently teamed up with the Family Online Safety Institute and National Parent Teacher Association to launch initiatives aimed at educating families about safety on the app and guiding parents in having open, ongoing conversations with their teens.
As part of the collaboration, we awarded 30 local PTAs from across the country with grants of $1,000 each to host family workshops on online safety at their school in conjunction with Safer Internet Day. We're committed to providing education to our own community as well, which we do in part through our safety video series, "You're In Control" – a series of videos designed with the user in mind that offers a fun, informative look at some of TikTok's safety features and best practices.
Our youth safety efforts go deep into product and policy, too. Unlike other platforms, we don't permit images or videos to be sent in comments or messages. While this may seem unusual, it was a deliberate choice: studies have shown that a proliferation of child sexual abuse materials has been linked and spread via messaging.
We've introduced several policy and product changes to protect younger users as well. In December, for example, we announced that we'd raised the minimum age for virtual gifting and now only allow those aged 18 and over to purchase, send, or receive virtual gifts. We continue to strengthen our internal controls and work with third parties in the internet youth protection space to better protect users.
Building in line with our values
A constant throughout this growth is our unwavering commitment to the integrity of the TikTok platform and the content it supports. Last year we released our first Transparency Report with clear information for each market to show how we balance cooperation with legal requests and protection of user rights. We recently introduced a comprehensive, expanded publication of the Community Guidelines that help maintain a supportive and welcoming environment on TikTok, giving users far more detail and clarity around how we define harmful or unsafe content that is not permitted on the platform.
To keep ahead of evolving behavior and address industry-wide risks, we're working with third-party fact checking and media literacy organizations, such as the Poynter Institute and its MediaWise program, to counter potential misinformation. We've begun surfacing in-app notices around hashtags related to topical issues like coronavirus or election-related content to remind our users of our Community Guidelines, which make clear that we do not permit misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public, including disinformation campaigns, manipulated content intended to cause harm, and content that misleads about elections or civic processes.
We've also added more detailed reporting options, with reports of misleading information sent to a dedicated, highly-trained team of moderators based in our Los Angeles office that reviews the accounts and videos in accordance with our policies. As we've shared, we're working on a new initiative in combination with global law firm K&L Gates to further strengthen our teams, moderation policies, and overall transparency, including creating a committee of outside experts to advise on and review content moderation policies covering a wide range of topics, including child safety, hate speech, misinformation, bullying, and other potential issues.
These are all continuing steps in a longer journey. Earning stakeholder trust requires us to be vigilant, make necessary investments and, above all, to listen and respond to feedback. We are committed to doing so. Ultimately, it is all part of fulfilling our mission of providing a welcoming space for all our users to express their creativity and find joyful, meaningful content.