Tiktok sign at the headquarters in Culver City, CA

TikTok Blocked Search Results for the WGA on Monday, Claiming the Term Violated Guidelines

TikTok users noticed this week that the app was blocking several search terms containing “WGA,” referring to the Writers Guild of America, as well as the #WGA hashtag. It’s not clear exactly when the social media app began this censorship, but Media Matters broke the story on Monday morning, noting that a TikTok search with the phrase “WGA” will come back with zero results and a message that the content you are searching for “…may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines.” 

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The message didn’t say exactly what kind of behavior or content might have put it on TikTok’s no-fly list, but it does refer users to the community guidelines after reminding them that “promoting a safe and positive experience is TikTok’s top priority.”

A screenshot of a TikTok search for "WGA" with a message stating no results.
(screenshot, TMS)

Sending users to the community guidelines section is basically the ultimate blowoff because when users get there, they are treated to 12 pages of what seems to be very broad, intentionally neutral language. For instance, the guidelines list the app’s guiding community principles as to “…prevent, harm, enable free expression, foster civility, respect local context, champion inclusion, provide transparency and consistency,” and to “be fair and just.”

A TikTok spokesperson told VICE the term “WGA” was blocked because it resembled a “conspiracy theory.” The spokesperson declined to go on the record saying which particular conspiracy theory, if any, WGA called to mind. 

Later on Monday, the TikTok spokesperson told Motherboard that the app had unblocked WGA and related terms.

The spokesperson still would not confirm on the record which conspiracy WGA resembled, and it’s unclear whether WGA was blocked intentionally, as an act of censorship by humans, or truly accidentally by AI. It would not be the first time TikTok has been guilty of some questionable censorship moves. 

TikTok has been accused before of down-weighting or blocking posts that contain controversial content or issues that are “sensitive” to powerful people or governments. For instance, the Guardian reported that the Chinese-owned social media giant had been censoring references to Tiananmen Square protests and Tibetan independence—issues that are highly unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party. 

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike has been going on for five months now without an agreement in sight. A recent Gallup poll, however, showed that, combined with the striking actors of the SAG-AFTRA unions, a 67 percent majority of Americans support the striking workers in this case over the apparently stingy studios. Those numbers show most Americans in agreement behind the so-called “little guys” in this case and not much controversy. It remains unclear whether TikTok had questionable intentions with this one, or just made a mistake.

(featured image: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin Getty Images)


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Cammy Pedroja
Author and independent journalist since 2015. Frequent contributor of news and commentary on social justice, politics, culture, and lifestyle to publications including The Mary Sue, Newsweek, Business Insider, Slate, Women, USA Today, and Huffington Post. Lover of forests, poetry, books, champagne, and trashy TV.