TikTok's new ban on misgendering and deadnaming won't be easy to enforce

Banning them explicitly is a good start, though.

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The latest version of TikTok’s Community Guidelines includes a new clause about deadnaming or misgendering other users. These behaviors have long been banned on the platform, TikTok explains in a blog post, but the company thought clarification of the policy was necessary.

“We’ve heard from creators and civil society organizations that it’s important to be explicit in our Community Guidelines,” writes Cormac Keenan, TikTok’s head of trust and safety.

The newly clarified hate speech policy builds off the ability to add pronouns to your TikTok profile, which the company introduced quietly late last year. TikTok hopes both additions will “encourage respectful and inclusive dialogue” across the app.

As far as community guidelines go, TikTok’s have always been significantly more progressive than those of older social networks like Facebook and Twitter. But these policies often end up being more aspirational than they are genuinely helpful. Can TikTok actually clamp down on deadnaming in a meaningful way?

Not easy to enforce — Like most social media platforms, TikTok uses a mix of machine learning algorithms and human review to catch posts and comments that go against its guidelines. This methodology works quite well for many of TikTok’s policies. Plug in a list of keywords and wait for the algorithms to pick up easy-to-spot offenses.

Deadnaming and misgendering are far more complex concepts, though. Both require knowledge of a person’s gender identity — deadnaming requires knowledge of a person’s deadname. These aren’t exactly quick and fast variables that can be plugged into an algorithm.

Human moderation tends to be the only somewhat successful method of removing these instances from TikTok. In many cases, that will require users to report those instances themselves, which puts a significant burden on the user who is being deadnamed or misgendered.

Aspirational is better than nothing — TikTok isn’t the first platform to explicitly ban deadnaming and misgendering of users; Twitter has had a similarly strict policy in place for a while now.

More than anything, the policy change shows that TikTok is legitimately trying to listen to safety recommendations from third-party experts. GLAAD’s 2021 Social Media Safety Index ruled that TikTok was “effectively unsafe for LGBTQ users. The group’s CEO even went as far as to call out TikTok’s lack of explicit policy prohibiting deadnaming and misgendering, which GLAAD pointed out can lead to real-world harm.

Following through with this policy won’t be an easy task, especially as moderators learn how to look out for these cases in particular. As far as platform safety goes, TikTok could do a lot worse than setting a high bar for itself.