São Paulo, BRAZIL – Social media giant TikTok waited almost three hours to contact police after a user in Brazil livestreamed their suicide on the platform.
The 19-year-old man advertised a special performance ahead of time and then killed himself while he was livestreaming on TikTok at about 3:23 p.m. on Feb. 21, 2019, according to The Intercept.
The video got almost 500 comments, and users submitted 15 complaints to TikTok, but it just continued streaming the horrible scene with the dead teenager’s body lying there motionless.
TikTok has been criticized in the past for not having the technology in place to detect this sort of activity in comparison to other social media channels and Internet safety experts have said they do not follow best practices.
“Competitors have much more precise indicators of sensitive situations than TikTok appears to have,” SaferNet Brazil President Thiago Tavares told The Intercept.
ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, manages the content on TikTokBrazil, including what content is taken down.
But moderators didn’t even notice the suicide, nor did their technology pick it up even after all the complaints, according to The Intercept.
They only caught it when influencers sent warnings to a WhatsApp chat that included some ByteDance employees.
The first thing the company did was delete the dead teen’s account at 5:13 p.m. and then begin writing a statement for the press, The Intercept reported.
Finally, at 7:56 p.m., the public relations team at TikTok notified the local police in the area where the dead user lived.
A ByteDance source told The Intercept that TikTok’s chief of operations in Brazil and Latin America told employees to keep their mouths shut about the suicide.
“Her orders were clear: ‘Don’t let it go viral,’” the source said.
Little concern was shown regarding the user’s suicide or how it might have impacted millions of viewers who saw the livestream, according to The Intercept.
“The main issue was just how unprepared the Chinese team was for a situation like this, where the app’s algorithm didn’t catch that it was a suicide, let alone bring down the livestream, even after so many complaints,” the source explained.
TikTok’s crisis communications plan worked and the livestreamed suicide on that platform was never reported on until The Intercept broke the story about the delay in notifying the authorities.
The press statement that was crafted in the almost three hours wasted after the company found out a user was lying dead on the floor of his home was never actually released because the story never blew up.
TikTok has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times and Brazil is one of the most popular markets, Business Insider reported.
Its parents company, ByteDance, is based in China and more than once, U.S. government officials have expressed concern about how much information the social media platform gathers.
TikTok also faced allegations that it censored “culturally problematic” content from its site after videos posted during the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were strangely devoid of the conflict, according to Business Insider.