In just a few years, TikTok has grown into one of the fastest-growing social networks in the world — and as the 2022 midterm election cycle heats up, the app is now gearing up to tackle the maddening problem of election misinformation.
In a Wednesday blog postTikTok’s head of US security, Eric Han, outlined how the company plans to combat the threat of harmful misinformation. First, TikTok will begin rolling out its election center this week to provide authoritative voting information and results from the Associated Press as soon as they are reported. TikTok says it will link to the election center through labels posted to interim content, including videos posted by governments, candidates and political parties.
While TikTok banned paid political ads in 2019, Han said the platform is expanding its policy to ban paid influencer content. During the 2020 election cycle, campaign and political groups, including the Biden-Harris campaign, worked with influencers on various platforms to reach voters who were spending more time online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“TikTok does not allow paid political ads, and that includes content that influencers are paid to create,” Han said in Wednesday’s blog post.
But in a report from last summer, the Mozilla Foundation found that political influencers on TikTok continued to place partisan ads in branded sponsorships of political groups despite the ban. TikTok noted the disparity in a post-election report last year and now plans to publish new educational content for creators and management companies that explains the rules banning paid political collaborations. Still, influencers associated with political groups, such as Turning Point USA, may not receive payment for branded content, but receive invitations to events and networking opportunities. When asked whether the ban applied to these unpaid partnerships, Han confirmed that it did not.
TikTok only started to gain traction in the United States at the peak of the 2018 mid-term cycle with its $1 billion purchase of Musical.ly in August. The app continued to grow in popularity during the 2020 presidential election, but has only become a staple of social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on Apple’s App Store charts since its publication. About 67 percent of American teens use TikTok, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, and for longer than competing social media apps. The average US user spends about 80 minutes a day on TikTok, doubling the time users spend on Facebook and Instagram. the analytics firm Sensor Tower found in a July report.
In a Tuesday briefing with reporters, TikTok officials emphasized the company’s commitment to protecting the integrity of US elections. “At TikTok, we are very proud that people come to our platform to share their own stories, not only that, but also to learn about other people’s stories, and that includes discussions of current events taking place in their world or in their world,” Han said during the briefing. “While people are discussing topics like these, like elections, our job is to meet every human challenge and protect our community from harm.”
With less than 90 days to the November elections, major tech platforms have already started preparations. Last week Twitter said it would return his tools to remove false and misleading election information. Google reached an agreement with the Federal Election Commission last week to launch a new program that would allow candidates and political groups to bypass Gmail’s spam filters so that their fundraising messages reach voters’ inboxes. In a Tuesday blog postFacebook’s parent company, Meta, said its mid-term approach would be “in line with the policies and safeguards” the platform put in place during the 2020 presidential election.
TikTok has grown in popularity despite numerous regulatory and political threats to ban the app altogether in the US. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly tried to take TikTok offline, citing national security concerns. As part of this effort, Trump signed several executive orders, including one seeking to ban all transactions between US entities and TikTok’s parent company Bytedance. Last summer, President Joe Biden issued his own order to revoke the Trump administration’s ban and order the Commerce Department to investigate TikTok’s ties to Beijing.
To allay the concerns of the legislator, TikTok entered into a relationship with Oracle to keep US user data. But the threats escalated after reports emerged that Bytedance engineers in China could not access US data until January 2022. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew wrote to Congress last month, providing new details about how the app is restricting Chinese access to US data.
“We know we are one of the most researched platforms from a security perspective, and we strive to remove any doubt about the security of US user data,” Chew wrote.