TikTok continues ‘shadow-promoting’ content in Russia, research shows

10 August 2022, 07:15 PM
The Chinese social platform does not follow its policy (Photo:TikTok)

The Chinese social platform does not follow its policy (Photo:TikTok)

Despite numerous promises, the TikTok social network continues “shadow-promoting” content to users in Russia – meaning promoting content that’s supposed to be banned, the Tracking Exposed NGO said in a report published on Aug. 10.

To conduct the research, Tracking Exposed accessed TikTok using its custom free software (Guardoni), which automates access to TikTok’s content in Russia using both Russian Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Residential Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

The Tracking Exposed data collection allowed it to be seen how the platform behaves in Russia, and what content is available.

Video of day

The NGO discovered new videos being distributed by TikTok that could not be found in a user’s account profile, but was still visible to followers in the feed.

According to Tracking Exposed, using this loophole some verified Russia-based accounts have uploaded new content as recently as today despite being banned from doing so, and these new videos are accessible to Russian users. These are Yandex Music, Premier, Letoile Official, Hice Bank, Prequelapp, Vprokru, Beautybomb.rus, Aviasales, Yota.ru, as well as Russian propaganda media account Sputnik.

“As one of the last international social platforms in Russia it is of the utmost importance that TikTok is transparent about what content is shown to Russians,” the authors said.

“This third report finds that – yet again – TikTok is failing to announce important policy decisions, this time in relation to algorithmically-recommended content. It also falls woefully short of the transparency standards that will soon apply to all big tech platforms in Europe as part of the Digital Services Act, despite its recent attempts.”

The research’s head Salvatore Romano calls TikTok’s actions “shadow-promoting.”

“I have never seen a platform opaquely promoting content that it publicly said it had banned,” he said.

“Only TikTok can explain why the For You page is shadow-promoting content in Russia. Given how vital the flow of information is in times of war, it’s way past time for TikTok to explain what its policy on content in Russia is once and for all.”

The company has already responded to Tracking Exposed’s allegations. TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza told WIRED that the company’s “policies for our service in Russia have not changed, and we continue working to enforce them for the safety of our employees and community.”

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