TikTok lands in hot water over racial bias on the platform

About Fatu
By Fatu Ogwuche

Top of Mind. Happy Sunday! I am so inspired by humans today and marvelling at life’s possibilities – Elon Musk announced the rollout of “Full-Self Driving” features for Tesla owners. Richard Branson is heading to Space today. Nothing is impossible.

In today’s edition:

  • TikTok in hot water
  • Andy Jassy is Amazon’s CEO
  • Trump is suing people again

3 big things

TikTok lands in hot water over racial bias

The Short: Short-form video app TikTok was called out this week by a black content creator for labelling black-related words like “Black Lives Matter” or “pro-black” as inappropriate, and allowing similar words like “white supremacy” and “pro-white” on the app.

Oops, they did it again: This is not the first time TikTok has been criticised for restricting black content on the app. During the George Floyd Protests last year, users accused the app of suppressing black voices after noticing the #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd hashtags had zero views. TikTok apologised and called it a technical gaffe, but that wasn’t enough.

TikTok’s response:

A technical glitch made it temporarily appear as if posts uploaded using #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd will receive 0 views.“

TikTok confirmed that the hashtags had over 2 billion views.

It’s a wider problem… Silicon Valley faces continuous criticism about its Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools being the arbiter of black content on social media, with evidential bias. Moreover, AI researchers have argued that AI and machine learning tools are man-made, making the propensity of racial bias higher.

The bull case for AI: Experts argue that given the rapid rate of hateful content and live mass shootings on social media, AI tools work faster than humans in actioning violating content and should exist. However, new studies show that training AI to be the arbiter of what’s allowed on platforms could amplify bias.

Rep Alexandra Ocasio Cortez made a point on AI systems:

Algorithms are still made by human beings, and those algorithms are still pegged to basic human assumptions, they’re just automated assumptions. And if you don’t fix the bias, then you are just automating the bias.

Big picture: AI is used by consumer-facing technologies and ultimately does some good in the world, with significant impact in medical advances and transportation technology – full-self driving cars, anyone? There’s still work to be done to have fairer systems, but AI offers continuous benefits to the human experience.

Bottom line: User engagement on social media is growing more toxic due to racial and political divides. Developing automation that works faster than humans helps keep users safe. It’s a broader call to action for Silicon Valley to develop better safeguards to deal with bias, and create systems that display the diversity of users on its platforms.

Andy Jassy is Amazon’s new CEO

CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the new CEO.

What you need to know about Andy Jassy:

  • He joined Amazon in 1997 from Havard Business School and was once a technical assistant to Bezos.
  • Jassy and Bezos came up with the idea to launch the computing platform AWS, which rakes in $50 billion a year.
  • Bezos once believed his philanthropic contribution to the world was employee paychecks and customer experience – Jassy serves on the board of Rainier Scholars, a nonprofit working to get underrepresented students of colour through college.
  • He’s known as a “nice” guy at Amazon. An adjective never attributed to Bezos.
  • He takes over Amazon at a $1.7 trillion market cap valuation, 1.3 million employee base and $419 billion revenue in the last year.

Bottom line: Bezos transition to the Executive Chairman role is not a total hands-off from Amazon. Instead, it frees up time to pursue his new endeavours in space exploration. I reckon he will maintain oversight over top strategic decisions at Amazon.

It’s a big job for Jassy and it charts a new path for Amazon under new leadership.

Trump goes after big tech CEOs

The Short: Former President Donald Trump filed a class-action suit against Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, over censorship and curbing his constitutional right to free speech.

Currently… Trump is permanently banned on Twitter and suspended from Facebook till 2023. His lawsuit comes at a time when countries are publicly challenging tech companies and their decision to govern how world leaders engage on their platforms.

Returning to his roots: As tech reporter and founder of Platformer Casey Newton hilariously notes, Trump returned to what gained him notoriety before his rise on social media – lawsuits.

The U.S First Amendment prevents the government from acts that restrict freedom of speech, but these laws do not extend to private platforms. This makes it a harder case for Trump to bring to the courts.

Trump’s prayer:

  • Compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial
  • Injunction and declaratory judgement ordering Facebook and Twitter to immediately reinstate him
  • Attorney’s fees of the suit to be paid by the CEOs in an amount to be determined at trial

Bottom line: The lawsuit will likely be quashed before it makes it to trial. This seems like another rabbit-in-the-hat move for Trump, where the intended outcome is attention and nothing substantive.

Quick plug

We’ve planned another exciting episode of Big Tech This Week on Twitter Spaces, where we deep dive into the topics in the newsletter. Today’s special guest is Investor and Tech Lawyer Tola Onayemi. It’s always an hour of fun and great entertainment!Click on this link to set a reminder to join us.


This one I’m excited about! I discovered the app Fanbase, a subscription-based social media app with photo, video and live-streaming features. It’s currently live in the US, Canada, UK & Australia.

First Impressions: It gives me great delight when new apps are born. Especially an app created intentionally to empower users. Fanbase UX is great and easy to navigate, but they’ve got some work to do on talent discovery. Plus, I didn’t notice privacy features to protect user privacy – unless the intention is for all accounts to be public profiles.

Behind the app: CEO/Founder Isaac Hayes III raised $3.5 million in its seed round with 5,100 investors, including Snoop Dogg and Charlamagne Tha God. Fanbase currently has almost 50,000 users at a $23.5 million valuation.

In Hayes words from Variety:

My original goal was to provide monetization for every single user on social media. People are spending so much money and time and creativity on these platforms, which are making billions of dollars on that content without passing that money on to the users of the platform.

Everyone can get paid: It operates as a freemium model with paid subscribers and free followers. In addition, you can monetize content by providing content exclusively to subscribers for $3.99 a month. Fanbase splits revenue 50/50 with creators.Design: Aesthetically, the app looks like Instagram with minimalism-as-design and similar icons. The heart sign in Fanbase reaction icons is called “Loves” for paid subscribers. You can purchase 100 Loves for £0.99 to 10,000 Loves for £99.99. “Likes” (thumbs up icon) are free. “Loves” put some money in the content creators pocket.

Verdict: I love the app, and I’m excited about its future. I think Isaac Hayes III has a great vision for its growth. I’ll be watching.


Sometimes, I’m reminded just how special humans are. This week’s industry trends spotlight advances on Earth and Space. While Elon Musk makes progress in Tesla’s full-self driving feature, Richard Branson heads to Space today at 3.30pm BST/WAT.

  • Thousands of Tesla owners who purchased the “Full Self-Driving” feature can now use autopilot on local, non-highway streets.
  • Watch Richard Branson fulfill a lifelong dream of space travel at 3.30pm today.
  • Instacart is a bigger threat to Silicon Valley’s employee retention than burnout.

Clubhouse loses major NFL partnership to Twitter. Yikes!

If you liked this edition, please help us grow this newsletter by spreading the love – talk about it, share it, forward it. Tell it on the mountain!

That’s it. Have a delightful week, see you next Sunday!

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