After a Forbes investigation, bipartisan Senate leaders are demanding answers from TikTok and its third-party content moderator, Teleperformance.
TikTok and its third-party content moderator, Teleperformance, are under fire from bipartisan Senate leaders over the companies’ handling of child sexual abuse material following a Forbes investigation.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee fired off letters to the CEOs of the social media platform and its contractor on Thursday over revelations from the Forbes report that Teleperformance has trained its content moderators using graphic videos and images of children involved in sexual acts that had been taken down off TikTok.
Forbes reported that this material had been made widely accessible to moderators as a resource on the job. One former employee was so alarmed by the companies’ cavalier handling of this illegal imagery that she reported their activities to the FBI, and subsequently met with an agent in June.
“This is incredibly disturbing,” Blumenthal and Blackburn wrote to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and Teleperformance CEO Daniel Julien. “By using these explicit images and videos as training materials, not only has Teleperformance subjected content moderators to the most repugnant subject matter imaginable, but it has actively promoted what it ostensibly sought to remove from TikTok.”
In response to the letter, Teleperformance spokesperson Mark Pfeiffer denied that the company had used child sexual abuse materials in content moderator training. He told Forbes in an emailed statement that “we take these allegations very seriously and we recently conducted an internal audit which found no evidence of the use of or access to CSAM images in training. We are now in the process of having an independent third party audit conducted in order to examine all of our content moderation operational standards and processes.”
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the senators’ letter. In response to the original report, TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza had told Forbes that TikTok’s “training materials have strict access controls and do not include visual examples of CSAM,” but conceded that the third-party firms it works with may have their own processes.
Now, Senators Blumenthal and Blackburn, who lead the powerful Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee, are demanding answers on the companies’ work together. They have asked the companies for information about a shared spreadsheet that former moderators said contained hundreds of images of children who were naked or being abused, known as “Daily Required Reading.”
Several former moderators had told Forbes this spreadsheet, which they said was widely accessible to employees at both companies, was filled with both child sexual abuse material and other content that had violated TikTok’s rules. The senators demanded answers on how many people had access to the document, the volume of child sexual abuse material it contained, how long the file had existed and whether it’s still being used.
They also asked Teleperformance how it had obtained the sexually explicit materials involving minors in the first place, and asked TikTok whether it had provided these visual examples to its content moderation partners.
In addition, the senators questioned TikTok on its engagements with other outside content moderation shops and how the social media giant keeps a handle on those outside contractors to ensure they are adhering to TikTok’s standards.
“When TikTok became aware of the sexually explicit training materials,” their letter to TikTok’s chairman concluded, “why did it not choose to terminate its contract with Teleperformance?”
They set September 2 as the deadline for TikTok and Teleperformance to respond.