TikTok said it refused an attempt by the Chinese government to open a disguised account on the platform for the purpose of spreading propaganda.
The Chinese-owned social video app said the attempt was denied because the account allegedly violated its guidelines.
Bloomberg reported that in April 2020, a message was sent to Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok’s head of government relations for the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Israel, referring to a “Chinese government entity that wants to join TikTok but wouldn’t want to be openly seen.” as a government account, because the main purpose is to promote content that showcases the best side of China (a kind of propaganda).
The request was deemed “sensitive” internally and disputed by senior company officials, according to Bloomberg. The TikTok spokesperson said the request was made by a TikTok employee on behalf of a friend. Bloomberg said the government entity involved was “responsible for public relations.”
TikTok has over a billion users worldwide and is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance.
TikTok’s Community Guidelines state that users may not engage in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” where accounts “exert influence and influence public opinion while misleading individuals, our community, or our systems about the identity, location, relationships, popularity or purpose of the account”. He also announced that he was working on a policy to label content from state-controlled media accounts.
BuzzFeed reported last month that China-based ByteDance employees were repeatedly able to access non-public US user data, reigniting debate over the security of user data on the platform.
Responding to concerns raised by US senators after the BuzzFeed story, Shou Zi Chew, chief executive of TikTok, acknowledged that China-based employees “may have access to US TikTok user data.” He added, however, that access was subject to “robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.”
This week, senior Conservative Party politicians under Chinese sanctions wrote to the Speakers of the House of Commons and House of Lords asking Parliament to delete his newly launched TikTok account. Signatories to the letter, according to Politico, included Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, and Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader. They were banned from entering China or Hong Kong after constantly criticizing China’s treatment of its Uyghurs population.