March 31, 2023

TikTok has announced a tightening of its policies around political accounts using its video-sharing platform, such as accounts belonging to political parties, politicians and governments.

The changes appear intended to limit political grifting (for lack of a better term) — including bans on the use of monetization features (such as tipping, gifts and ecommerce) or on using video-sharing platforms to direct campaign donations. .

Political accounts will also be ineligible for TikTok’s creator funds, as well as unable to access advertising features by default.

A company spokesperson said the changes are designed to promote a positive environment and reduce polarization in line with its mission to be an entertainment platform. TikTok said the changes will be rolled out and/or implemented “in the coming weeks”. It ensured that the new policies were implemented globally.

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

TikTok is an entertainment platform where people come to share their stories, and also understand the experiences of others. These stories can touch on all aspects of their lives, including current events such as elections and political issues. As we There is a set beforeWe want to continue to develop policies that encourage and promote a positive environment that brings people together, not divides them.

While TikTok has banned political ads since 2019, it’s now going a little further — saying it wants to build on that ban on “political content in ads” by enforcing ad restrictions at the account level.

“This means accounts of politicians and political parties will automatically have their access to ad features blocked, which will help us apply existing policies more consistently,” it explained.

TikTok notes that there may still be “limited” circumstances in which it will allow political accounts to advertise — such as to raise awareness of a public health cause. But it said government agencies would be “required” to work with a company representative to run such campaigns, so it would vet all requests.

“We recognize that there will be instances where governments may need access to our advertising services, such as for public health and safety and access to information, such as advertising the Covid-19 booster campaign,” it noted: “We will continue to advertise to government agencies in limited circumstances. Give permission and they have to work with a TikTok representative.”

Changes regarding requests for campaign fundraising will see TikTok disallow content that directly appeals for donations.

TikTok gave examples of “a video from a politician asking for donations”, or “a political party directing people to a donation page on their website” as the types of fundraising content it would not allow under the new policy. But it remains to be seen whether politicians will find creative/coded ways to encourage fundraising on TikTok that address these limits. As always, a policy is only as strong as its implementation.

“TikTok is first and foremost an entertainment platform, and we’re proud to be a place that brings people together over creative and entertaining content,” the company added in the blog post. “By banning campaign fundraising and limiting access to our monetization features, we aim to strike a balance between protecting our community’s creative, entertaining platform while enabling people to discuss issues relevant to their lives.”

It is unclear how much political conflict is currently playing out on TikTok’s platform. Asked whether there are a significant number of political accounts using monetization features like tipping, etc., a company spokesperson declined to specify, saying the company does not release information about specific user demographics.

While TikTok is clearly keen to present its platform as ‘a bit of harmless fun’, it cannot avoid being a political ‘hot potato’ topic in itself.

Lawmakers and intelligence agencies in the West have – for years – raised various concerns linked to TikTok being owned by a Chinese company and thus subject to broad national security laws that give the Chinese state the power to access data held by tech companies. . So it invested in opening so-called ‘transparency centers’ and moving US users’ data to Oracle servers (as well as announcing plans to localize dates in the EU). Concerns persist, however, about the ability of China-based activists to access data from Western users.

TikTok’s platform has also faced sporadic allegations that it censors views not affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party – though it denies the claim. Other political fears raised by the platform in the West are related to its ability to track users, given how much user data it captures (including concerns about biometric data), as well as widespread concern about its ability to influence public opinion through its application of powerful content-selection algorithms. The fear — or, better paranoia — here is that TikTok is a highly successful foreign influence in brainwashing Western children…

only last month, the British Parliament closed an account days after TikTok opened after it faced criticism from senior MPs and peers who called the data security risks associated with using the app “considerable”. So it may take more than a few policy changes for TikTok to rise above the political fray.

This report has been updated with feedback from TikTok

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