Australian bosses of video-sharing platform TikTok have denied content is moderated to satisfy the Chinese government.
Senators on Friday grilled TikTok Australia general manager Lee Hunter over links to Chinese parent company ByteDance.
Committee chair and Labor senator Jenny McAllister quoted ByteDance chief and founder Zhang Yiming’s 2018 apology to authorities over content shared in China through the company’s other apps.
“Our product took the wrong path, and content appeared that was incommensurate with socialist core values,” he wrote on WeChat at the time.
Mr Hunter said TikTok did not operate in China, arguing Mr Zhang’s comments related to products that do.
Senator McAllister pointed to job advertisements for China-based positions which worked on ByteDance’s overseas products including TikTok.
“Are you seriously saying none of your content decisions are being made in the PRC?” she said.
Mr Hunter said TikTok moderators were based in 20 countries but none in China.
“It’s important to note that we don’t moderate or remove content based on the political sensitivities of China,” he said.
Greens senator Nick McKim said ByteDance collaborated with the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang province, where Uyghur muslims faced torture and imprisonment.
Mr Hunter encouraged Senator McKim to search Uyghur on TikTok to see a wide variety of content on the subject.
“TikTok is not China. We are an app. We are not based in China. We do not moderate or remove content at the request of the Chinese government,” he said.
Liberal senator Jim Molan accused the executives of misleading federal politicians in a letter promising the company would never share Australian user data with China.
But TikTok Australia’s public policy director Brett Thomas said the US justice department would have to approve a Chinese request before compelling the company to hand over information.
“We would never give Australian user data to the Chinese. We never have and we never would.”
He outlined the mutual legal assistance treaty, an international agreement to share evidence about criminal investigations with the US.
Senator Molan likened Douyin – the version of TikTok available in China – to a method of controlling the population.
“That has been used in China, according to other submissions, to really control people as you would train a dog,” he said.
But the TikTok bosses said it did not share the same algorithm as Douyin.
Mr Hunter also addressed the sharing of a graphic video showing a man taking his own life.
He didn’t want to publicly go into too much detail on how it spread across the platform, but promised to tell senators more in private.