TikTok no longer considers “Asian women” a dirty phrase. The video-sharing application fixed an issue that censored the term in its automatic captions, saying it was an “error”.
TikTok introduced automatic captions in early April, testing them in the US and Japan with the intention of eventually implementing them more widely. This useful new feature automatically detects and transcribes what video creators are saying, providing captions that they can review and edit for accuracy. Captions are a vital accessibility tool for deaf or hard of hearing people and are also generally appreciated by anyone who scrolls the page for you without headphones.
However, TikTok users soon noticed automatic captions making questionable calls regarding words they considered inappropriate. Although the phrases “white men”, “white women”, “black men”, “black women” and “Asian men” passed through the TikTok language filter without problems, the phrase “Asian women” did not. Instead, TikTok’s automatic captions censored the phrase and it appeared as “a **** w ****.”
The problem was fixed and the “Asian women” were uncensored within a short period of time after Mashable contacted TikTok for comment.
“We are deeply concerned about supporting and elevating underrepresented groups in TikTok and work quickly to resolve this error,” a TikTok spokesman told Mashable.
The fix means that you will not be able to replicate the problem in any new video you create and it will not be an issue when the subtitles are released in more countries. However, videos subtitled before the correction are still censored. (The phrase “Asian woman”, in the singular, was never censored.)
TikTok’s censorship of “Asian women” is particularly regrettable in light of the current rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate documented 503 hate incidents against Asians in the U.S. during the first two months of 2021, with violence against Asians fueled by racist rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The actual number of anti-Asian hate crimes is believed to be significantly higher, as incidents are often not reported.
Asian women are also particularly vulnerable to this type of violence, as they are highly sexualized and fetishized. In March, six Asian women were among eight killed in mass shootings in massage parlors in Atlanta. Several TikTok users have speculated that such sexual connotations imposed on Asian women may be the reason the app censored the phrase.
TikTok currently has a resource page with links to information on how to support the Asian American community.
This is not the first time that technology companies have censored the term “Asian”. In March, Apple updated its iOS 14.5 Beta so that web searches containing the word “Asian” would no longer be blocked by its adult content filter – a problem that persisted for more than a year. Fortunately, TikTok was a little quicker to solve the problem.