- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2022

TikTok said it is making changes to its policies involving state-run accounts, amid allegations that China used the video-based social media platform to influence American politics ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Accounts linked to the Chinese government published TikTok videos with political commentary, including one account that favored Democrats and criticized Republicans such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, according to Forbes.

TikTok said it is developing a global state-controlled media policy and new product features when asked about the alleged Chinese effort to sway Americans.

“We plan to introduce our state-controlled media policy and corresponding labels globally next year as part of our continued focus on media literacy,” said Jamie Favazza, TikTok spokesperson, in an email. “As we previously confirmed, the global rollout will include China state media.”

Critics view TikTok’s commitments as unreliable and say the platform’s China-founded parent company, ByteDance, has sought to leverage the social media app to manipulate Americans and their kids.

Center for Humane Technology co-founder Tristan Harris has argued that ByteDance offers a healthier version of the TikTok platform called Douyin within China while offering an unsafe version to hook American kids. 

Mr. Harris, a former Google employee who advocates for tech regulation, told CBS that Douyin represents a “spinach version of TikTok” while Americans get served the “opium version.”

TikTok portrays itself as not wanting to cause harm. Ms. Favazza said the platform began a pilot program of its state-controlled media policy earlier this year with an eye toward Belarus, Russia and Ukraine featuring labels on videos and profiles. 

Ms. Favazza also said Chinese state-run media content and accounts are not limited to TikTok. She shared Chinese state-run media publishing videos on Facebook and Google’s YouTube featuring content about Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

The YouTube video included a label branding the account as “funded in whole or in part by the Chinese government” while the Facebook post included a label saying it was run by “China state-controlled media.”

The TikTok posts from China-linked accounts do not display similar labels. Some of the accounts identified by Forbes include details about their connections to the Chinese government in their bios, but the individual posts do not appear to display information about their government connections.

While TikTok said its new policy will address government-backed media from China, it has also sought to downplay its connections to China.

TikTok executive Vanessa Pappas claimed TikTok does not operate in China in remarks to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in September.

She said TikTok was incorporated in the U.S. but had an office in Beijing, and its parent company ByteDance had no headquarters but was founded in China.

Concerns that Americans’ privacy and data on TikTok were in jeopardy of falling into the hands of the Chinese government contributed to a review of the platform initiated by the Trump administration. The Biden administration has maintained the federal review of the tech platform while replacing an executive order that sought to restrict transactions with TikTok’s parent company.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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