TikTok is one of the world’s largest social media platforms and continues to grow daily. The platform has an average of 650,000 new users every day which is equivalent to 8 new users every second. TikTok is also a global company but is also banned in some countries like India and most recently has banned content from Russia.
Due to the recent invasions, TikTok users in Russia can only see old Russian-made content. Livestreaming and adding new content from Russia were also banned. The content ban stemmed from Putin passing a new law that banned the country’s fake news about its military, including language that described Russia’s attack against Ukraine which threatens a 15-year prison sentence. As an immediate response, TikTok released a statement that they have no choice to suspend live-streaming and content but will further review the safety implications of the law as safety is their top priority. This was seen as unfortunate because TikTok had a dominant role as being a source of content for outsiders to get a sense of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
As part of TikTok’s global brand, they now need to go to the drawing board on how to handle state-controlled media on its platform due to the split position of being a global social media platform and a Chinese owned company that has free speech and a long-standing relationship with Russia. Additionally, TikTok is a Western based company where their executives do not have the power to make public statements. They also must figure out what choice of words to use while releasing statements regarding conflict to manage their global brand since they are portrayed as a global company that is an apolitical entity to users and is a place for entertainment and not politics. However, the Russian war is truly testing TikTok’s stance of their past of being politically neutral and playing both sides to stay neutral. They also have started to include labels for content from state-controlled media accounts to try and stay out of politics. This includes “Russia state-controlled media” as a label to flag content that could be confusing and propaganda where images were repurposed from previous conflicts where it could be deemed as misleading and false posts about the war.
Additionally, TikTok has also emphasized that they have partnered with independent fact-checkers and has increased the number of resources for the problematic content. Moving forward, they will continue to increase security to detect the emerging threats and will be removing content that has harmful information and that violates their community guidelines. There are serious concerns with the content censoring because clips could be highly edited and re-shared without tagging the original source of content. This means misinformation and propaganda can be spread using TikTok and can influence opinions due to the algorithm, which is why it is important for TikTok to become responsible during times of conflict. With the new labels, we believe that it will help users understand what could be misleading, but we also think it is important for officials to come up with a greater solution.