Tag: TikTok

September 29, 2020

TikTok Launches ‘Elections Guide’ in the US to Provide Users with Accurate, Timely Voting Information

With the US Presidential Election now only 34 days away, TikTok has this week announced its new ‘Elections Guide’, which will help connect its users with authoritative voting information, and limit the spread of misleading reports and updates via the app.

TikTok Election Center

As you can see in these screenshots, TikTok’s Elections Guide will prompt eligible US users to register for the poll, while also providing official information on the voting process in each state via the National Association of Secretaries of State, BallotReady, SignVote, and more. 

As explained by TikTok:

“As with our COVID-19 resource hub, the election guide can be accessed from our Discover page and on election-related search results. We’ll also be linking to the guide at the bottom of videos relating to the elections and on videos from verified political accounts.”

So it’s pretty similar to the approach that both Facebook and Twitter are taking with their election awareness pushes – though you would expect that TikTok will have less of an impact in this regard, given that more than a third of its daily users in the US are aged 14 years old or younger.

But still, it could have an impact. Snapchat, for example, which also caters to a younger audience subset, recently reported that it’s already prompted 400,000 people to register to vote in 2020 via its in-app pushes. TikTok’s audience skews even younger than Snap’s, but any further pushes in this respect can have benefits, and can help drive awareness of civic participation.

And as we’ve seen, TikTok, despite its own efforts, has already been caught up in political controversy. Negotiations over the app’s sale to a US company are ongoing, and it may still face a full ban in the US if it can’t arrange a separation from its Chinese parent company. The rising tensions between China and the US have put the app in the middle of global trade discussions – so despite TikTok not accepting political ads and not being focused on news content, as such, it’s still involved in political messaging, in one way or another.

Given this, it makes sense for TikTok to align with the other social platforms and offer informational pushes. And even if they don’t end up having a major impact, it’s still worth TikTok, from a PR perspective, working to distribute accurate, timely, and helpful election information. 

Free Speech Social Media Platform

September 28, 2020

Court Allows TikTok to Remain Available for Download in the US, Despite White House Executive Order

Despite TikTok’s latest deadline expiring, which would have seen all US downloads of the app banned this past weekend, the app remains available, and in operation, for American users, at least for the time being.

While the US Government has given preliminary approval for the Oracle/Walmart takeover offer for TikTok to progress, as yet, there’s no official deal in place, and as such TikTok was set to be banned in US app stores yesterday, in line with the original Executive Order.

But as with the White House’s ban on WeChat, a US court has now blocked the move, allowing TikTok to maintain regular operations as the details of the deal are finalized.

To recap, on August 6th, US President Donald Trump issued two Executive Orders, which outlined separate bans on the operations of Chinese-owned social apps TikTok and WeChat within the US. Both orders were set to go into effect 45 days after they were issued, which meant that all downloads of TikTok and WeChat would have been banned on September 20th. 

However, days before the original deadline, TikTok announced that it has made significant progress in arranging a takeover deal, which lead to the US Department of Commerce issuing TikTok with an extension on the proposed ban till September 27th, giving it more time to finalize the deal. WeChat, meanwhile, challenged its ban in court, and a US Magistrate ruled that the ban could not go ahead, due to lack of evidence in relation to the concern that the app could be a threat to national security. 

It seems that TikTok has argued along similar lines, and now, it too will avoid an app store ban in the US. There’s currently no timeline on the new ruling, which was issued by the US District Court in Washington just hours before TikTok was set to be removed from availability.

TikTok issued a short statement on the ruling yesterday, saying:

“We’re pleased that the court agreed with our legal arguments and issued an injunction preventing the implementation of the TikTok app ban. We will continue defending our rights for the benefit of our community and employees. At the same time, we will also maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government to turn our proposal, which the President gave his preliminary approval to last weekend, into an agreement.”

It’s the latest in the messy takeover of TikTok, with the US Government, pushing for complete separation of the app from its Chinese parent company, in order to protect US user data and stop potential interference by the Chinese Government. President Trump has also said that the ban is, in part, a form of punishment for China over the spread of COVID-19. It’s unclear which element is the bigger concern in the US Government’s ban action.

In the days leading up to the weekend deadline, US officials had said that there would be no appealing the TikTok ban this time, with some noting that doing so would look bad for the Trump administration and its authority in such matters. And while the official explanation for the latest ruling has not yet been released, it’s expected that TikTok’s legal team argued along the same lines as WeChat’s defense – that while there is speculation that these apps could share data with the CCP, and could distribute pro-China messaging, the evidence of such is not sufficient to a full ban at this stage.

So, right now, TikTok remains unchanged, and continues to be available for US users as normal, and it’ll likely remain that way until the details of the Oracle/Walmart takeover deal are finalized, one way or another. If the deal falls through, which is still a possibility, TikTok could still face a full ban in the US on November 12th. 

Details of the separation arrangement are set to be challenging, with the parties working to appease both the US and Chinese governments in the deal. 

So while we are further along in establishing TikTok’s future in the US, there is still some way to go.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens between now and November.    

Free Speech Social Media Platform

September 23, 2020

TikTok Launches Legal Action Against Pending App Store Ban

While all parties have agreed, in principle, to the proposed Oracle/Walmart lead takeover of TikTok, which seemingly meets both the US and Chinese Government’s requirements for the deal to proceed, the actual details are still being worked out, with some disagreement over what, exactly, will be included in the sell-off of the app.  

Which now leads to the next potential problem for the app.

Originally, TikTok had until September 20th – last Sunday – to arrange a separation deal, or it would face removal from the US app store. That came close to happening, until the Oracle/Walmart deal was seemingly on track for approval, and as such, the US Department of Commerce agreed to give TikTok an extra seven days to finalize the new arrangement.

Which means that the app’s deadline is now this Sunday, and if the takeover deal is not signed off by then, TikTok will indeed be removed from US app stores, meaning that while current users will still be able to use the app, no one else will be able to get it until the deal gets the final go-ahead.

TikTok is still adding new users at a solid rate, and as such, it’s fairly keen to avoid an app store ban – and now, as a sort insurance policy in case the Oracle deal drags on, TikTok has requested an injunction against its pending app store ban, citing a lack of evidence and just cause in the White House executive order.

And it may well get it – late last week, a US Magistrate ruled that the same ban on WeChat, which was also named in the original White House Executive Order, could not go ahead due to lack of evidence in relation to the concern that the app is a threat to national security.

As per Judge Laurel Beeler

“While the general evidence about the threat to national security related to China (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence about WeChat is modest”.

TikTok could argue the same. In fact, it’s already stated that case in its commentary on the proposed US Government ban, in a post entitled ‘Why we are suing the Administration‘ published last month.

As per TikTok:

The Executive Order issued by the Administration on August 6th, 2020 has the potential to strip the rights of [our] community without any evidence to justify such an extreme action, and without any due process. We strongly disagree with the Administration’s position that TikTok is a national security threat and we have articulated these objections previously.”

Indeed, while various concerns have been raised about TikTok’s potential links to the Chinese Government, and while the app has been banned for use on US, UK and Australian military-issued devices, the actual evidence of TikTok or parent company ByteDance sharing data with the Chinese regime seems very thin – or at least it’s not available publicly.

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which, as a Chinese company, is beholden to China’s strict cybersecurity laws, which require businesses to share their user data on request, would seemingly have to share such, if the CCP requested it. But we have no evidence that any such demand has been tendered, nor will be any time in future. 

Speculation also exists around TikTok’s algorithms and its potential to amplify pro-China messaging, but again, the actual evidence is limited in TikTok’s specific case. Moderation guidelines used by employees of the Chinese version of the app, ‘Douyin’, were leaked to the press late last year, and they clearly showed that its moderators had been advised to censor anti-China content. But Douyin and TikTok are not the same, and TikTok has explained these specific guidelines were never applied in its app.

So while the concerns are valid, and there is some basis to the considerations, the evidence for enforcement may not hold up in court. At least, it didn’t in WeChat’s case.

That could mean that TikTok will be able to avoid an app store ban, if a takeover deal is not reached, which would definitely not look good for the Trump administration and its stated intention to restrict the app.   

That could, once again, put TikTok in the spotlight, and make the US Government even more determined to force a full sell-off of the app to US-based ownership. 

Basically, the TikTok takeover saga is not over yet, and while it still seems likely that the parties will come to some form of agreement to let TikTok continue operating in the US, that’s still not a given, and it could face removal from app stores in just a few more days.

Free Speech Social Media Platform

September 23, 2020

TikTok Announces Bans on Ads for Weight-Loss Related Products in Order to Protect Users from Self-Perception Concerns

TikTok has announced some new steps that it’s taking to ensure that it’s protecting users from body-shaming and self-esteem issues, with new bans on weight loss ads, and new tools to help connect users to professional services to assist with related concerns.

As explained by TikTok

“As a society, weight stigma and body shaming pose both individual and cultural challenges, and we know that the internet, if left unchecked, has the risk of exacerbating such issues. That’s why we’re focused on working to safeguard our community from harmful content and behavior while supporting an inclusive – and body-positive – environment.” 

In line with this, TikTok has updated its ad policies to ban all ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements, while it’s also increasing restrictions on ads that “promote a harmful or negative body image”.

Further to this, TikTok will also now also enforce new restrictions on ads which make exaggerated claims about diet and weight loss products, including:

  • Weight management products can only reach users age 18+
  • Stronger restrictions on weight loss and implied weight loss claims
  • Further restrictions to limit irresponsible claims made by products that promote weight loss management or control
  • Ads promoting weight loss and weight management products or services cannot promote a negative body image or negative relationship with food

Some of these regulations may be difficult to implement effectively, and will require human review, but TikTok is also, reportedly, adding 25,000 new staff in the US, which may, in part, be in preparation for this increased workload.

And it is indeed an important policy shift. 

A recent report from The New York Times suggests that more than a third of TikTok’s daily users in the US are aged 14 or younger, which means that the platform has very high reach to an extremely impressionable audience. The app’s overall user base also skews young, and with so many filters and editing tools available, you’re really not comparing yourself to a realistic image of the person you’re seeing in your TikTok feed a lot of the time.  

That can definitely lead to negative self-perception, and as TikTok continues to grow, it’s important that it takes steps to ensure that it’s protecting its users where it can.

Cracking down on weight loss related content is significant in this regard.

In addition to this, TikTok is also expanding its partnership with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to add new prompts for the NEDA hotline in searches related to body image related content.

“In addition, TikTok will be supporting Weight Stigma Awareness Week (September 28 – October 2) by launching a dedicated page in our app to support NEDA’s #EndWeightHateCampaign. This page will be featured in our Discover tab and will educate our community about what weight stigma is, why it should matter to everyone, and how they can find support or support others who may be struggling.”

Again, given the younger skew of the TikTok audience, these are important steps – and definitely, those weight loss supplement ads have been problematic, with many people reporting the flood of such campaigns within the app.

TikTok still has a way to go in protecting its users, but this is a positive move that could have a major impact.

Free Speech Social Media Platform

September 23, 2020

TikTok Shares Latest Data on Content Removals and Enforcement Actions

While negotiations over the app’s sale in the US continue, TikTok has today released its latest transparency reportwhich provides specific detail on all of the videos that TikTok’s team has removed, for varying reason, over the last six months.

And there are some interesting points of note – first off, reflecting the app’s rising popularity, TikTok removed a lot more videos in the first six months of 2020 than it did in the preceding reporting period.

As per TikTok:

“In the first half of 2020 (January 1 – June 30), 104,543,719 videos were removed globally for violating our Community Guidelines or Terms of Service, which is less than 1% of all videos uploaded on TikTok.”

In its previous report, TikTok said that it had removed 49,247,689 videos between July and December 2019 – so it doubled its content removals in the first six months of 2020. 

But still, in that report, TikTok also noted the same, that this represented less than 1% of all videos uploaded in the period. That means that TikTok has seen at least 10 billion video clips uploaded in the first half of 2020, a massive amount.

The increase in removals is reflected in the regional stats – here’s a comparison of removals for the top four regions, based on TikTok’s last two reports.

TikTok transparency report

In some ways, that’s a concern, that TikTok is having to remove more content, but again, the data likely reflects increased usage, with the app holding its position at the top of the download charts, and adding more and more users throughout the year. Which is why several companies were willing to spend billions to acquire it.

In terms of why TikTok removed content, it’s provided this chart, with slightly confusing shading differentiation.

TikTok transparency report

Yeah, I’m not 100% sure which is the top reason based on that color comparison, but the slightly darker shades at the top of the list are the key reasons for content removal.

The vast majority of these, TikTok says, were removed before anybody saw them, while its machine learning systems also detected even more violations:

“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we relied more heavily on technology to detect and automatically remove violating content in markets such as India, Brazil, and Pakistan. Of the total videos removed, 10,698,297 were flagged and removed automatically for violating our Community Guidelines. Those videos are not reflected in the chart above.”

Which likely suggests that TikTok’s systems are improving in this respect, though it is also worth noting that the platform remains under investigation in several regions over concerns related to how it protects younger users.  

This is also an important chart, given the ongoing concerns around TikTok potentially sharing user data with the Chinese Government:

TikTok transparency report

This is TikTok’s listing of the requests it received to remove or restrict content via government agencies in the first half of 2020. As you can see, there are no requests from China at all – which makes sense, given that TikTok itself isn’t available in China (China has its own version of the app called ‘Douyin’), but theoretically, this listing would also need to reflect any push from the CCP to limit the spread of, say, content relating to the Hong Kong protests, or the Tiananmen Square massacre, both of which have reportedly been restricted in the app.

That’s not reflected in this data, which could show that China’s influence over the app is not as significant as some have suggested. Or TikTok is not fully reporting such. 

But TikTok has faced one particularly significant content issue of late, with a video depicting a man committing suicide being circulated through its network, and exposing many users to graphic footage. 

TikTok says that this video was being shared as part of a coordinated effort by bad actors looking to test its systems: 

“Through our investigations, we learned that groups operating on the dark web made plans to raid social media platforms including TikTok, in order to spread the video across the internet. What we saw was a group of users who were repeatedly attempting to upload the video to our platform.”

TikTok’s still working to remove the clip, but it’s also called on other social platforms to work with it to help coordinate their efforts in combating targeted efforts of this sort. Which the other platforms already do – Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube all work together and share information to help each other combat misinformation, and other forms of web misuse, while they’re also looking to improve their combined efforts to maximize response.

TikTok’s not part of that group yet – but maybe, with the platform seemingly securing its future in the US, it too will soon have a seat at the table in such discussions.

You can read TikTok’s latest Transparency Report here.

Free Speech Social Media Platform

September 11, 2020

What You Need to Know About TikTok and Teespring’s Partnership