The founder and CEO of TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, recently pledged to use his company to promote “socialist core values” and foster adherence to the Chinese Communist Party’s “ideology, political thinking, and deeds.”
Zhang showed his fealty in a nearly 1,000-word essay after China’s State Administration of Radio and Television banned his first app for “improper” content,
Posted to the Tencent-owned platform WeChat, the apology began with Zhang admitting his app offended his “socialist core values.”
“In the past, we have placed too much emphasis on the role of technology, and failed to realize that socialist core values are the prerequisite to technology,” he stated.
He noted the “deep-seated problems for the company” included “a weak understanding of the “four consciousness”, a lack of socialist core values, and a biased guidance of public opinion.”
“Four consciousness” is a term favored by President Xi Jinping, which, as explained by a high-level Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatchik is to foster adherence to party “ideology, political thinking, and deeds”:
While apologizing for “failing to live up to the guidance and expectations of the authorities,” the TikTok CEO, who has repeatedly insisted the app has no links to the CCP, admitted that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has received “a lot of guidance and help” from “the authorities.”
This ByteDance-CCP relationship goes some way to explaining the Trump administration’s skepticism of TikTok, its data-mining, and its censorship.
And as a solution to his company transgressing CCP diktats, Zhang pledges that future endeavors – such as TikTok – will “integrate the right values into technology and products.”
To do so, his first pledge was to “strengthen party building” by “enhancing education of all the staff on the four consciousness, socialist core values, public opinion guidance, as well as laws and regulations” along with “further deepening cooperation with authoritative media, improving distribution of authoritative media content, and ensuring the effective dissemination of authoritative voices.”
Zhang also promised to “set up an expert group on content supervision” with “National Party Congress representatives and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference members” in attendance.
And these calls have been heeded by ByteDance: Neihan Duanzi’s successor Toutiao employs thousand-person legions to moderate its content, ensuring it adheres to party-peddled narratives.
What’s more, the company grants priority to CCP members in their hiring process.
For example, in a job posting for a “content review editor,” ByteDance declared “Communist Party members would be considered first” and described its ideal employee as someone who “loves reading news, cares about current affairs, and has good political sensitivity and judgment.”
Zhang’s full 2018 Letter Can Be Read Below:
I sincerely apologize to regulators, our users and colleagues. I have been in a state of guilt and remorse since I received the notice from the regulatory authority yesterday afternoon and stayed up all night.
Toutiao will permanently shut down the app and the Wechat account of Neihan Duanzi. The product has gone astray, posting content that goes against socialist core values. It’s all on me. I accept all the punishment since it failed to direct public opinion in the right way.
I blame myself for failing to live up to the guidance and expectations of the authorities. In the past few years, the authorities have given us a lot of guidance and help, but I failed to understand properly and to correct properly in the past that resulted in the repercussions today.
I blame myself for failling the support and trust of our users. We one-sidedly focused on growth and scale without paying timely attention to quality and responsibility, and ignored our responsibility of guiding users to obtain positive information. We have failed to undertake corporate social responsibility, and lack emphasis and understanding of our roles in carry forward the positive energy, and guide public opinion properly.
At the same time, I also failed my colleagues who have put all their enthusiasm and effort into create this product. I take key responsibility for a problem of this size appearing in our product and causing the termination of services.
After CCTV’s report on March 29, I continued to reflect on my previous thoughts and the company’s current practices. I have started to push our staff to increase their awareness, improve management and complete our procedures
I have an engineer background, and my purpose for becoming an entrepreneur is to create a product that facilitates the interactions and exchanges of users around the world. In the past few years, we have put more energy and resources on the growth of the company, but have not taken enough measures to make up for our shortcomings on platform supervision and corporate social responsibility, such as an effective governance of vulgar, violent and harmful content or false advertising.
As a startup that experienced rapid expansion after the 18th National Congress, we thoroughly understand that our rapid development is an opportunity given to us by this great era. I am grateful for this era, grateful for the historical opportunity of reform and opening up, and for our country’s support in the science and technology industry.
I reflect that the deep-seated problems for the company are: a weak understanding of the “four consciousness”, a lack of socialist core values, and a biased guidance of public opinion. “In the past, we have placed too much emphasis on the role of technology, and failed to realize that socialist core values are the prerequisite to technology. We need to spread positive messages in line with the requirements of the times while respecting public order and good practice.”
We must adjust our vision. To build a global platform for creating content and exchanges, we need to ensure that the created content and the communication are positive, healthy and beneficial to the era, and bring positive energy to the people.
We must reinterpret and implement our social responsibilities: integrity, innovation, value creation, responsibility and win-win cooperation. I thoroughly undersatnd that the development of enterprises must be consistent with the development of this era and this national .
Today, the regulatory authorities, the public and the media have all pointed out our company’s problems. It’s a kind reminder and powerful spur. My colleagues and I will immediately begin to make changes to our mindset and practice.
I. Integrating the right values into technology and products
- Strengthen party building, enhance education of all the staff on the “four consciousness”, socialist core values, public opinion guidance, as well as laws and regulations, and truly fulfill our social responsibility.
- Strengthen the institutions of all business lines to fulfill their social responsibilities and include it into the scope of performance evaluation.
- Further deepen cooperation with authoritative media, improve distribution of authoritative media content, and ensure the effective dissemination of authoritative voices.
- We will increase the accountability of the editor-in-chief, correct the defects in our algorithm and machine review, constantly improve operation and review, and expand the existing operation and review team from 6000 to 10,000 people.
II. Reinforce community order and improve community atmosphere
- The company will make April the rectification month. We will set up a rectification committee, thoroughly check for problems in our products, report our progress to the supervision department regularly, and share our results with the public at the same time.
- Establish a blacklist system to permanently ban creators who violate community values.
- Start taking special measures to protect minors and to ensure the physical and mental health of minors in our product design, operation and review.
- We will build an online system of anti-obsession, anti-rumor and anti-vulgarity, and solve community problem through product design and technology.
- We will set up an expert group on content supervision, invite National Party Congress representatives, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference members, experts and scholars, media and other representatives from all walks of life, as well as industry professionals, to monitor the content and services of the platform. We will collect all their feedbacks and better enhance the quality of our content.
Lastly, I apologize again to the regulatory authorities and our friends.
We should have done better, and we certainly will do better.
We sincerely look forward to the community helping and monitoring our rectification. We will try our best to live up to everyone’s expectations.
Zhang Yiming, Founder and CEO of Toutiao
April 11, 2018