TikTok launches auto-captioning on videos in New Zealand to increase accessibility

"The lack of captioning certainly does make you feel more lonely and isolated."
"The lack of captioning certainly does make you feel more lonely and isolated." Photo credit: Getty Images / Supplied

Social media platform TikTok is making its content more accessible by launching auto captions in Australia and New Zealand today, a move hailed as "very important" by a Kiwi creator.

Auto captions automatically generate subtitles, allowing viewers to read content, making it easier for the Deaf community to understand and enjoy the content according to video creator Chanelle Waite.

The Taranaki-based TikToker has over 2000 followers and has welcomed the move, saying the Deaf community "wants to be involved and this feature gives us an opportunity to join in on the action even more".

That's particularly important with a feeling of isolation exacerbated by the various COVID-19 lockdowns.

"The lack of captioning certainly does make you feel more lonely and isolated. We’re not able to be involved and informed in the same way as others," Waite told Newshub.

"We miss out on crucial information which means we need to rely on others - which can really challenge the desire for independence. You feel more out of touch and this can impact the quality of life."

TikTok, owned by Chinese company Bytedance, is encouraging all users to add auto captions to their videos as part of its goal towards creating a more inclusive app.

Lee Hunter, general manager of TikTok Australia and New Zealand said "it makes a huge difference in providing a better experience for our Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing community."

"As creators make content, they can select auto captions on the editing page after they've uploaded or recorded a video so that text is automatically transcribed and displayed on their videos.

"With this feature, creators have the power to edit the text of their captions once they're generated."

Viewers are able to turn the captions off if they don't want to see them.

Having already rolled out functionality to help warn those who suffer side effects from photosensitive content as well as a text-to-speech feature, this is another next step towards making the platform available to everyone, Hunter said.

"We're currently undertaking an accessibility assessment to identify additional areas for improvement, and we're increasing our outreach to organisations and communities with disabilities."

Other platforms already allow creators to add auto captions to their content, including YouTube and Facebook-owned Instagram, which rolled the functionality out in New Zealand earlier this year.

In Instagram Stories, a captions sticker automatically takes what someone says in a video and turns it into text, allowing users to watch without sound.

"With captions, people can now express themselves in a more effortless yet still meaningful way, and their audience can watch and still engage," the company said at the time.

Video conferencing software, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom also have the ability to auto-caption content.

And Tiktok's move to launch the same functionality in Aotoearoa means Waite can both benefit from and use the feature to help others, she said.

"I am passionate about advocating for the Deaf community in New Zealand and teaching New Zealand Sign Language to people around the world through my videos, so they can learn more about our experience.

"I would encourage everyone to start using auto captions so that people from Deaf and hard of hearing communities can understand and enjoy content- like everyone else.

"My community is so talented with so much to offer, so give us a chance to be involved and involve us with captions," she told Newshub.

The move by TikTok comes days after it announced it had crossed a major milestone in its user base.

"Over 1 billion people from around the world come to TikTok to be entertained, inspired, or discover something new," the company's Australian COO Vanessa Pappas said in a message on the platform.

"That's a billion people every month watching and sharing each other's creativity." 

The company recently announced that children in China will only be able to use Douyin, the Chinese version of the app, for just 40 minutes per day.

Access is prohibited between 10pm and night and 6pm the next day, thanks to the new 'youth mode' that's been implemented.

It's part of a wider crackdown by Chinese authorities on activities it considers problematic, which also includes significant restrictions on online gaming.