March 24, 2022 | Business Insider

TikTok snubs researchers while disinformation spreads

ISD’s Ciarán O’Connor shares insights and concerns over the role of TikTok in spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda in an op-ed for Business Insider.

The platform owned by ByteDance “has so far mostly followed its Western counterparts” in banning Russian state-backed accounts in Europe and announcing it would label content from Russian state-backed accounts. It even banned content from Russian users, however Ciarán’s research shows that numerous Russian-state backed accounts are still active — their engagement on TikTok outnumbers their reach on YouTube.

“This diversification of disinformation from traditional social media to TikTok illustrates the long arm of the Kremlin and how authoritarian leaders can use the platform to subvert democracy around the world.”

Ciarán also outlined TikTok’s less than favorable approach to providing researchers abnd journalists with access to the platform’s user-generated data, such as the analytical tools offered by Facebook, Google and Twitter. Instead, researchers are stuck manually collecting data on TikTok.

“TikTok’s position against offering researchers access to the platform is a worrying indicator of how ByteDance views independent, transparent oversight over potential abuses on its platform,” Ciarán wrote. “Without access to TikTok’s data, our hands are tied while those who spread political lies and propaganda are free to post and flout TikTok’s policies.”

This article is also available in Spanish.

Ciarán O’Connor is an Analyst at ISD, working in the Research and Policy unit.

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