The influence of political messages on Tiktok is much more powerful than we think. This is what Brandi Geurkink, senior researcher at the Mozilla Foundation, demonstrated during her presentation.
“Political influence is happening on Tiktok”, Brandi Geurkink warns. The senior policy fellow researcher and advocate works at the Mozilla Foundation, an American NGO aiming at keeping the Internet public, open and accessible to all.
The researcher has studied for three years how political influence and misinformation are spread on Tiktok, in several countries and electoral contexts such as the United States, Germany and the United States.
“The platform tried to brand itself in the policy and regulatory space as a platform that is not for politics, but for inspiration and creativity. However, novel techniques for influence such as paying influencers to spread disinformation are tested first on Tiktok”, argues Brandi Geurkink.
Hence, when Tiktok adopted the EU code of practice on disinformation, a tool developed by social media platforms and the EU Commission in 2018 to combat misinformation, it stated that it was irrelevant to commit to ensuring transparency about political advertising.
Yet, researchers found that the Tiktok algorithm doesn’t effectively label advertising content as such, putting into question its capacity to monitor political content.
As a result, researchers identified videos featuring hate speech and misinformation on Tiktok in the context of the 2021 German federal election as well as the 2022 Kenyan general election.
In the United States, many Tiktok influencers across the political spectrum, who disseminated political content on Tiktok, were actually receiving undisclosed payments from political groups.
“We are going to have to work together as Tiktok is very difficult to study”. These difficulties are due to the lack of data and tools made available by Tiktok, Geurkink explains. Moreover, content moderation is much harder on a video platform than press or audio.
Hence, Geurkink calls on “civil society and activists to monitor what’s happening on Tiktok, particularly during elections”.
By Amandine Hess