Woman talking(l+r), Phone with chains and lock and tiktok app open(c)

Luiza Kamalova/Shutterstock @hi.itsnotvi/Tiktok (Licensed)

TikTok appears to be automatically banning people with dwarfism because it thinks they’re underage

One user thinks TikTok might have rolled out a new AI filtering tool.

 

Marlon Ettinger

Tech

Posted on Feb 6, 2024   Updated on Feb 6, 2024, 3:03 pm CST

Violet Elliott got a message from TikTok on Sunday informing her that she was being banned from the platform because she didn’t appear to meet the site’s age requirement—despite being an adult in her early twenties. 

Elliott, a TikToker who goes by @hi.itsvi and Vi on the platform, shared a message with the Daily Dot from TikTok warning her that her account would be deleted on June 3 if she didn’t take any additional action.

Unrecorded

“Your account is banned because it looks like you do not meet the age requirement to use TikTok,” the message read.

“If this is a mistake and you are at least 13 years old, you can appeal before 27/05/2024,” the message also read.

“I’m in my early 20s, I’m definitely not a child,” Vi said. “My guess is because the TikTok AI just saw my stature and assumed that because I’m under four feet, I have dwarfism, they just assumed that I’m a child.”

TikTok requires that all users be at least 13 to use the platform and has an appeal process for anybody who thinks they’ve been unfairly flagged. 

But Vi said that she wasn’t the only person with dwarfism who’s been hit by the auto-ban on TikTok, and suspects that they’ve been rolled up by artificial intelligence-based moderation.

She had been making TikToks on her original, now-banned account, since June 2022 without any issues, she said. Her videos focus on dwarfism and disability advocacy. After her first video calling out somebody for ableism over their fear of dwarfism blew up, she realized that, “I guess this is my life now.”

“I’m really really lucky that I get consistent work outside of TikTok,” Vi said. “I know that’s not the same for all disabled people. Not all disabled people have the privilege of working a 9 to 5 … so they turn to freelance work through social media or just building a brand for themselves … if they get banned that’s taking away their livelihood, that’s taking away their income.”

Vi explained how she uses her TikTok to brand herself as an advocate. Losing the platform, where she had around 87,000 followers, would mean missing opportunities for advocacy she never would have otherwise. Vi cited an invite last April to the Canadian Screen Awards where she was able to make a connection for an organization she works with to expand accessibility in the North American film industry.

“Recently I was building a pitch to attend an industry event where I would be in a great position to push for disability representation and accessibility … [but] I can’t really pitch that anymore [to my followers] if I have a banned account,” Vi said.

TikTok didn’t immediately respond to questions about the ban and what type of AI filtering tools it’s using for moderation.

Vi also said that the bans weren’t only hitting people with dwarfism on TikTok—she says she knows one person whose profile was taken down from Tinder because they didn’t believe she met the age requirement too.

She since made a new account to raise awareness of TikTok’s actions. 

https://www.tiktok.com/@hi.itsnotvi/video/7331887647339711750

“You know, I appreciate what these platforms are trying to do to protect minors,” she said. “But I feel like we’re heading in a direction where because AI is getting more popular, we may be training these AI machines to have biases.”

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*First Published: Feb 6, 2024, 8:32 am CST