TikTok, the popular social media platform, found itself at the intersection of content moderation challenges when it temporarily blocked search results related to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike while attempting to tackle the spread of QAnon conspiracy theories. This incident, which occurred on September 12, raised questions about the platform’s content moderation algorithms and the impact on users, particularly during a period of significant labor unrest in Hollywood.
On September 12, Media Matters for America (MMFA), a nonprofit media research group, reported that TikTok users in the US and around the world were unable to search for content related to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike. Searches for terms like “WGA” and “WGA strike” returned no results on the app, despite extensive coverage of the labour dispute involving writers and actors in Hollywood.
The strike, which began earlier this year, has had far-reaching implications for the entertainment industry, impacting not only writers and actors but also content creators, studios, and influencers. TikTok has been one of the key platforms for unions and workers to share news about the dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.
However, within a few hours of MMFA’s report being published, TikTok resolved the issue, and search results for WGA strike-related content were restored, appearing to work as usual.
TikTok, like other social media platforms, has been grappling with the challenge of moderating and curbing the spread of QAnon conspiracy theories. QAnon is a baseless conspiracy theory that has gained prominence in recent years, with its adherents promoting various false and dangerous claims.
In an attempt to address this issue, TikTok’s content moderation system inadvertently blocked searches for content related to the WGA strike. A TikTok spokesperson, Ben Rathe, confirmed that the platform was indeed trying to block QAnon-related content but did not specify the exact QAnon phrase that triggered the action. However, “WWG1WGA” (where we go one, we go all) is a common slogan associated with QAnon.
Under TikTok’s disinformation policy, the company has previously taken steps to ban user accounts sharing QAnon content and has blocked QAnon-related hashtags. It is worth noting that posts containing terms like “Writers Guild of America” were not affected by the unintended content blockade.
The WGA strike and the parallel strike by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have had a profound impact on the entertainment industry. These labour disputes have reverberated throughout Hollywood, affecting not only writers and actors but also studios, content creators, and influencers.
One of the notable consequences has been the studios’ efforts to hire non-union content creators to fill roles that union members are not performing due to the strikes. This shift has created both opportunities and challenges for content creators, as they navigate the evolving landscape and seek to understand how to comply with union requests and requirements.
TikTok’s brief blocking of WGA strike-related content highlights the complex and often challenging task of content moderation on social media platforms. As these platforms grapple with the spread of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and harmful content, there is an inherent risk of overcorrection or unintended consequences.
The incident serves as a reminder of the delicate balance that platforms like TikTok must strike between safeguarding against harmful content and ensuring that users have access to important news and information, especially during significant events like labour strikes.
The temporary blocking of search results related to the Writers Guild of America strike on TikTok underscores the challenges faced by social media platforms in their efforts to moderate content and combat the spread of conspiracy theories. While the incident was quickly resolved, it highlights the need for continuous improvement in content moderation algorithms to prevent unintended consequences.