Google has removed millions of negative reviews of short-form video-sharing app TikTok, after brigading by disgruntled Indian fans.

The Chinese-owned video-sharing platform has received criticism in India after disturbing videos were found on the app. Bytedance has seen backlash, with millions of Indians leaving negative reviews under the guise of the BanTikTok, DeleteTikTok, and BlockTikTok hashtags over on Twitter.

These have trended heavily in India over the past three weeks, with controversy coming as videos that appeared to show and condone domestic violence, animal cruelty, racism, child abuse, and the objectification of women were widely shared (via TechCrunch).

Millions of Indians began leaving one-star reviews on the TikTok Google Play Store listing, which absolutely tanked the average score. It dropped like a stone from 4.5 stars to below 1.2. Google has now stepped in to remove all of the negative spam reviews. A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch that millions were removed as “corrective action” to “curb spam abuse.”

[Update]: After doing some digging of our own, we’ve found that Google may have removed in excess of 8 million reviews from the original TikTok listing on the Play Store. That is an astronomical figure but given TikTok has been downloaded over 1 billion times, it’s still only a minor portion of the potential userbase.

According to our own screenshots from last week, when compared to the same listing from this morning, you can see the massive disparity in reviews:

Since the removal of many of the reviews, the Play Store listing has seen the average TikTok review score rally slightly. It is now sat at 1.6 stars, however, it will likely recover as the scoring system accounts for the removals — or as more spam reviews are removed from the system.

With over 200 million registered users in India alone, TikTok has exploded in the region. This has led to the spotlight being placed upon content moderation within the region, after a high-profile incident involving social media influencer Faizal Siddiqui posted proof of an acid attack — which has since been removed. This recent post was a catalyst in the influx of negative reviews from Indian users of TikTok.

In a statement to TechCrunch, a TikTok spokesperson said:

Keeping people on TikTok safe is a top priority and we make it clear in our Term of Service and Community Guidelines that clearly outlines what is not acceptable on our platform. As per the policy, we do not allow content that risks the safety of others, promotes physical harm, or glorifies violence against women. The behavior in question violates our guidelines and we have taken down content, suspended the account, and are working with law enforcement agencies as appropriate.

While this is not the first case of negative reviews being removed from the Google Play Store, it’s arguably the biggest to date. Now if Google could clamp down on more commonly seen review spam across the Play Store we’d be happy…

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Damien Wilde

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