On Tuesday, Gizmodo reported that a new study suggests TikTok, the video short sharing social network popular with younger people, is "consistently and dramatically suppressing" nonpartisan statements exhorting users to turn out to the polls.
"The research, conducted by non-profit media lab Accelerate Change and shared with Gizmodo, suggests videos with influencers using election related words were viewed far less than nearly identical videos where those same terms were not said," reported Mack DeGeurin. "Accelerate Change says its research has so far led to 370,000 views from 20 different paired videos. The pairs of videos were nearly identical, with one pair including verbal uses of political words like 'mid-terms,' and 'get out the vote,' and the other featuring those words not spoken but hand written on a sign. The TikToks with the handwritten election terms reportedly received three times as many views as the videos where influencers spoke election related words out loud."
In response to the study, a spokesperson for TikTok disputed various aspects of the study and denied the company has a policy of throttling "political content" in general. According to Accelerate Change's president, Peter Murray, these findings are stark evidence: "Often with an algorithm performance experiment like this, you struggle to see a pattern in the data, but in this case the result was dramatic and clear: TikTok is suppressing more than 65 percent of voting video views.”
"Ahead of the U.S. midterm elections, TikTok did announce some changes to its content policy regarding politics," said the report. "The company moved to bar videos that contain political fundraising efforts and also mandated verification for U.S.-based government and political accounts. The study acknowledged some of those policy changes but maintains the social media giant’s not doing enough to encourage voter engagement."
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This comes after former employees of TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, have come forward to allege people working on the app have been ordered to plant soft "pro-China" content and suppress criticism of Xi Jinping's regime.
"The research gained the attention of some tech policy experts like Tech Oversight Project Executive Director Sacha Haworth who described the current interplay between social media and politics as a, 'code red moment,'" noted the report. "'We have been sounding the alarm for weeks,' Haworth told Gizmodo. 'Whether it is TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook, Big Tech platforms have abandoned their role in ensuring free and fair elections in the United States. They are spreading disinformation and suppressing basic pro-democracy information like where to find your polling place.'"