Determined ‘bad actors’ worked out ways to get around TikTok’s security controls and tried to upload a graphic suicide video 10,000 times, Senate inquiry hears.
Determined ‘bad actors’ worked out ways to get around TikTok’s security controls and tried to upload a graphic suicide video 10,000 times, Senate inquiry hears.

TikTok’s shock suicide video admission

Ten thousand graphic videos of a man taking his own life were uploaded to TikTok in one week, and many were played to unsuspecting users, company executives revealed to a Senate inquiry today, blaming determined "bad actors" who worked out ways to evade the app's security controls.

Despite the apparent breach, however, Australian executives for the China-based social network argued the company could control political disinformation on its network and would "never" share information requested by the Chinese Government, while avoiding questions about Chinese laws that would force it to do so.

Three members of TikTok's Australian management appeared before the Australian Senate inquiry into foreign interference in social media this afternoon, and faced a grilling from senators about whether the controversial app shared user information with China, acted like "spyware," and whether it could be trusted after failing to stop the spread of a graphic video in which an American army veteran killed himself.

The violent video had first streamed live on Facebook on August 31, where it remained online for almost three hours before being removed.

TikTok Australia and New Zealand general manager Lee Hunter before a Senate inquiry into foreign interference on social media. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
TikTok Australia and New Zealand general manager Lee Hunter before a Senate inquiry into foreign interference on social media. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

TikTok Australia and New Zealand general manager Lee Hunter said the clip began circulating on TikTok on September 6, and blamed "concerted actors" for editing new versions of the video to evade the network's detection.

"Unfortunately, over the course of a week we saw some 10,000 variations of that video trying to be uploaded to the TikTok platform," he said.

"Some of the content and some of the nature of what happened I'd prefer not to go into on a public forum, chiefly because some of the methods they tried to implement to circumvent our technologies I'd prefer not to be out there."

Mr Hunter said a TikTok investigation into the problem also showed "where it was proliferating," but declined to reveal that information to the inquiry because "we don't want to put that out there in a public forum".

The spread of the extremely graphic video - often spliced into the middle of seemingly harmless animal clips - created a massive problem for TikTok's young users and their parents, even prompting primary school principals to issue warnings and advice on how to deal with it.

TikTok Australia General Manager Lee Hunter, Director of Public Policy Brent Thomas and Roland Cloutier, Chief Security Officer (via Teleconference) during the hearing at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
TikTok Australia General Manager Lee Hunter, Director of Public Policy Brent Thomas and Roland Cloutier, Chief Security Officer (via Teleconference) during the hearing at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

In response to repeated questions about TikTok's potential to share information about Australian users with the Chinese government, or censor information at its request, Mr Hunter was adamant the company would "never" agree to such requests.

He avoided making comment about whether TikTok would be subject to a Chinese law from 2017 that required Chinese-owned companies to "support, assist and co-operate with state intelligence work," however.

"TikTok is not China. We are an app. We are not based in China," Mr Hunter said.

"We do not moderate or remove content at the request of the Chinese government."

The company, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, may shortly sell part of its operations to American firms Oracle and Walmart in a deal proposed to avoid a ban in the US.

The ban could see Americans prevented from downloading TikTok from app stores, and was described in an executive order from US President Donald Trump as a way to stop "data collection (that) threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information".

It's not yet clear how a potential sale would affect Australia's 1.6 million TikTok users, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared to rule out a similar ban on TikTok in Australia, saying it did not appear "security interests are being compromised or Australian citizens are being compromised".

For help with emotional difficulties, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au, or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Originally published as TikTok's shock suicide video admission



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