March 24, 2023

TikTok has announced it will use its video-sharing platform to tighten policies on political accounts, such as those belonging to political parties, politicians and governments.

The changes appear to be aimed at limiting, er, political fraud (for a better term is needed) — an imminent ban on the use of monetization features (like tipping, gifts, and e-commerce) or the use of video-sharing platforms to directly solicit campaign contributions.

Political accounts will also be ineligible for TikTok’s creator fund and won’t have access to advertising features by default.

A spokeswoman for the company said the changes were designed to foster a positive environment and reduce polarization, in line with its mission as an entertainment platform. TikTok said the changes will be rolled out and/or implemented in the “coming weeks.” It also confirmed that the new policy is being implemented globally.

In a blog post about the policy update, it added:

TikTok is an entertainment platform where people share their stories and learn about other people’s experiences. These stories touch every aspect of their lives, including current events such as elections and political we have left beforewe want to continue to develop policies that promote and facilitate positive environments that bring people together rather than divide them.

While TikTok has banned political ads since 2019, it has now gone even further — saying it wants to further ban “political content in ads” by applying ad restrictions at the account level.

“This means that accounts belonging to politicians and political parties will automatically have their access to advertising features turned off, which will help us enforce our existing policies more consistently,” it explained.

TikTok noted that there may still be “limited” cases where it allows political accounts to advertise — such as raising awareness for public health reasons. But it said government organisations would be “required” to work with company representatives for such activities, so it would review all requests.

“We recognize that there may be circumstances in which governments may need access to our advertising services, such as to support public health and safety and to obtain information, such as promoting Covid-19 booster campaigns,” it noted, adding: “We Government organizations will continue to be allowed to advertise in limited circumstances, and they will be required to work with TikTok representatives.”

The changes to soliciting campaign funds will see TikTok ban content that directly calls for donations.

TikTok cites “videos of politicians asking for donations” or “political parties directing people to donation pages on their sites” as the types of fundraising content not allowed under the new policy. But it remains to be seen whether politicians will find creative/coding ways to encourage fundraising on TikTok to address these limitations. As ever, the strength of a policy depends on the enforcement it accepts.

“TikTok is an entertainment platform first and foremost, and we’re proud to be a place for creative and entertaining content that brings people together,” the company added in a blog post. “By banning campaign fundraising and restricting the use of our monetization features, our goal is to strike a balance between getting people to discuss issues relevant to their lives and protecting the creative, entertaining platforms our communities want.”

It is unclear how much political activity is taking place on the TikTok platform. When asked if a large number of political accounts use monetization features such as tipping, a company spokesperson declined to be specific, saying the company does not release information about specific user demographics.

While TikTok clearly wants to see its platform as “a little bit of harmless fun,” it can’t avoid being a political “hot potato” by itself.

Over the years, Western lawmakers and intelligence agencies have raised a series of concerns related to TikTok being owned by Chinese companies and thus subject to broad national security laws that give the Chinese government broad powers to access data held by tech companies. So it invested in opening what it called a “transparency center” and moving U.S. users’ data to Oracle servers (along with plans to announce date localization in the European Union). Although concerns remain about the ability of Chinese employees to access data on Western users.

TikTok’s platform has also faced sporadic allegations that it censors views inconsistent with the Chinese Communist Party — a claim it refutes.Other political concerns the platform has raised in the West have to do with its tracking capabilities users, given how much user data it captures (including concerns about biometric data), as well as broader concerns about its ability to influence public opinion by applying its powerful content classification algorithms. The fear — or, well, paranoia — is that TikTok is a very successful foreign influence that can brainwash Western kids…

only last monthThe UK parliament then shut down an account on TikTok after it was criticised by senior MPs and peers who said the data security risks posed by using the app were “considerable”. Therefore, TikTok may need more than a few policy adjustments to escape the political strife.

This report has been updated based on TikTok’s response

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