Pro-Kremlin propaganda still rife on TikTok despite ban, new report shows

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Pro-Kremlin propaganda still rife on TikTok despite ban, new report shows

TikTok have been accused of failing to effectively tackle pro-war propaganda on its platform about the conflict in Ukraine   —  

Russian users were still exposed to pro-war Russian propaganda on TikTok despite a ban on content, a study has revealed.

The report by Tracking Exposed found that pro-Kremlin accounts had exploited a loophole on the platform to continue to push the Kremlin’s war narrative.

The European nonprofit said that it wasn’t until March 25 that TikTok fully implemented its new ban on Russian content.

For nearly three weeks before then, Tracking Exposed found that over 93 per cent of war-related content seen by users in Russia was overwhelmingly related to pro-war and pro-Russia.

The study also showed that in late March, Tiktok — without announcement — completely removed the upload ban.

Euronews has contacted TikTok for a statement in response to the Tracking Exposed study.

The social media company said separately on Tuesday that it has removed 40,000 videos that violated its policies against “harmful misinformation”.

Most of the largest social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been restricted or explicitly blocked in Russia amid the war in Ukraine.

But Chinese-owned TikTok is one of the very few that still remain.

TikTok initially announced a ban on 6 March that would stop Russian users from uploading new content and viewing posts from other accounts abroad.

This came in response to a «fake news» law that was signed into law in Russia, which threatened a jail sentence of up to 15 years for the dissemination of what the Kremlin deemed to be «fake news».

But concerns were raised by analysts, who said the policy would only leave more room for pro-Kremlin propaganda to spread.

«With these recent changes, TikTok runs the risk of effectively converting itself into a propaganda channel for the Kremlin,» Tracking Exposed previously stated in their first report in March.

In its latest study, the nonprofit also found that failure to effectively implement the ban had allowed pro-Kremlin propaganda to spread.

«During [a] 17-day period that TikTok didn’t comprehensively implement the ban, new content uploads related to the war were overwhelmingly pro-war,» the report said.

«Before the ban was announced, the balance of pro-war and anti-war content was roughly equal.».

Co-director at Tracking Exposed, Marc Faddoul, said that the exposure of such content has allowed users in Russia to develop «a very one-sided perspective» about the war in Ukraine.

«Russian users don’t have a balanced view of the conflict and do not have a view that is representative of the TikTok ecosystem as a whole which other users around the world can get,» he told Euronews.

«They get a very one-sided perspective that very much aligns with the Kremlin’s narrative».

Although there was no evidence of any new or recent activity from TikTok users in Russia since 26 March, content uploaded just before the ban and through the loophole still remains and are yet to be removed, Tracking Exposed added.

The ban on content in Russia has also prevented users from accessing independent reports about Russia’s invasion.

Faddoul told Euronews that TikTok was perceived as a threat by the Kremlin due to the amount of international content that criticised the Russian regime.

«[But now] TikTok in practice has become another channel for the Kremlin to promote their narrative and propagate them», he added.

Last month, a study by NewsGuard found that users elsewhere in Europe were still being fed misinformation about the war in Ukraine within 40 minutes of them signing up on the app.

The company said in a statement that it had added labels to 5,600 videos, informing viewers that the content could not be verified by fact-checkers.

TikTok also said it had removed 321,784 fake accounts in Russia and 46,298 fake accounts in Ukraine.

But social media companies have been called on to be more transparent and allow independent fact-checkers to access the platform’s data so that independent and objective audits can be carried out.

«We are calling for increased transparency from platforms,» Marc Faddoul said.

«There should also be better mechanisms to allow independent scrutiny by independent groups.»

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