After more than a year of steady growth, the company is struggling to garner support from its users due to recent changes in policy. With social media platforms like TikTok, you’ll often find users with political opinions that are controversial and divisive. Why do some people feel so strongly about their opinion? What should we expect moving forward as politics continues to seep into other facets of daily life?
TikTok, a video app that’s been around for about three years and has over 200 million users worldwide, is struggling to find its footing in the current climate of war.
With goofy videos involving lip-syncing, dancing movements, and practical jokes, TikTok boomed as a social-media tool. Now, some users are producing unending streams of war memes and government propaganda, which are shaping global perceptions of the Ukraine crisis.
This shift is one of the most significant obstacles the short-video app has faced since its introduction five years ago, according to its parent company, Chinese technology giant ByteDance Ltd.
According to sources familiar with the situation, TikTok wrestled internally with how to cope with its increased position in geopolitics as tensions between Russia and Ukraine grew. According to them, some TikTok content moderators couldn’t decide whether to promote certain postings, delete them from the app, or limit the producers’ accounts.
The content reviewers have also been perplexed by several video identified by the app’s content-filtering mechanisms, according to the sources. The insiders stated that since there were no explicit guidelines in place for war-related material, junior-level supervisors were tasked with fine-tuning the standards as they went along. According to them, the outcome was variations in the presentation of comparable information.
“To identify developing risks and remove damaging disinformation, we continue to react to the situation in Ukraine with enhanced safety and security resources,” a TikTok representative stated.
TikTok took the greatest move yet on Sunday, blocking new video uploads and live streaming from Russia, citing staff safety after Russia’s new “fake news” legislation. The decision, which came after other big digital and media businesses shuttered their operations in the country, was remarkable since TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is located in Beijing, where the government has opposed Western sanctions against Russia.
On March 3, an overhead picture of the hamlet of Borodyanka in the Kyiv area shows a residential structure damaged by shelling as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues.
MAKSIM LEVIN/REUTERS/MAKSIM LEVIN/REUTERS/MAKSIM LEVIN/REUT
This happened only a week after TikTok said that it will block access to select Russian state-controlled media accounts in the European Union, including RT and Sputnik. One individual familiar with the situation claimed TikTok alerted officials at ByteDance in Beijing, who did not fight the decision, indicating the seriousness of the situation. According to a TikTok spokesperson, the company’s CEO has complete control over all of TikTok’s activities.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, users of social media platforms such as TikTok, Meta Sites Inc.’s Facebook, Twitter Inc., and Google’s YouTube have consumed images and video clips published to those platforms. TikTok, in particular, has offered a ground-level, sometimes visceral glimpse of contemporary conflict, but social media experts believe it has also become a source of untrustworthy information.
“People go to TikTok for fun, but they’re getting imprecise and even inaccurate information about the conflict,” said Anne Kruger, director of the misinformation-research organization First Draft, headquartered in Sydney. She claims that the platform’s continual video replays assist to cement messages.
As Russian soldiers moved on Ukraine, a video of military jets flying in formation was widely posted on TikTok, claiming to be evidence of the invasion. The footage was eventually discovered to be from a Russian military parade in mid-2020, according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website located in Washington, D.C. Since then, the video has been taken off.
According to a WSJ investigation, Russian soldiers and military equipment relocated from major conspicuous garrisons in Russia and into smaller, harder-to-follow formations near Ukraine’s northeastern border before the invasion. Ryan Trefes contributed to this artwork. (From 2.24.22 on video)
According to First Draft, another video depicting troops parachuting into a battle zone was seen by 20 million TikTok users before being deleted when the material was discovered to be from seven years ago.
In an apparent attempt to commercialize their clips, such video sometimes includes a statement asking for contributions or tips for the content producer.
“The platform has become a significant location for people across the globe to see and learn about the invasion,” said Ciarán O’Connor, an Institute for Strategic Dialogue researcher based in Ireland. “However, it’s also become a tool in information warfare.”
To be clear, TikTok isn’t the only platform that has to deal with fake news. However, according to Mr. O’Connor’s study, TikTok was more effective than other social media in propagating misleading information about Ukraine by Russian state-controlled media.
The RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan’s TikTok profile isn’t classified as state media. More than 20 million people have watched videos of Kremlin propaganda broadcast on the account.
He looked examined 12 TikTok videos made by the editor-in-chief of Russia’s state-run news network RT, which reinforced Kremlin propaganda portraying Ukraine as an aggressor. The films were seen 21.3 million times as of March 8, more than the 11 million views she had received by publishing 21 videos on YouTube under an account that wasn’t designated as state media. Only organizations are subject to TikTok’s state-media labeling regulation.
According to those acquainted with the situation, TikTok’s leadership employees convened online only days before the crisis in Ukraine broke out to propose new guidelines to their teams that administer the site for the Russian and Ukrainian markets. According to several of the persons, the employees were from TikTok’s global legal, public policy, and trust and safety departments, and were largely located in TikTok’s big regional locations like Dublin and Singapore.
TikTok’s officials have been meeting on a regular basis to discuss ways for dealing with the problem, and the company has an operation center available 24 hours a day to react to events as they occur, according to the company. Its worldwide trust and safety team, which is overseen by a director in Dublin, is in charge of overseeing and enforcing their content regulations, according to the company.
As a result, TikTok began running war-related videos through online open resources and databases to see if the footage existed online prior to the conflict, with the goal of identifying and removing old images of jet fighters, bombings, and military operations that were being passed off as new content, according to people familiar with the situation.
Other platforms have addressed some of these concerns before TikTok.
Within days after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Meta, Twitter, and YouTube revealed the actions they were doing to eliminate false or misleading material. New regulations were implemented, and postings from and featuring ties to state-linked Russian media were labeled and demoted.
The three have also outlined how they have deleted and permanently suspended accounts, videos, and posts that originate from Russia and are directed towards Ukraine, as well as accounts, videos, and posts that engage in deceptive tactics and spread false information. TikTok hasn’t made any solid information on the removal of inauthentic postings or users public.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese technology company.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/greg baker
—This essay was co-written by Raffaele Huang and Meghan Bobrowsky.
Liza Lin can be reached at [email protected]
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
TikTok Struggles to Find Footing in Wartime. TikTok, a popular social media app that is similar to Musical.ly, has been struggling in the midst of the current war with China. The app was first released by Chinese company ByteDance and quickly became popular among teenagers and young adults. Reference: tiktok download.
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