TikTok accused of allowing Kremlin propaganda

This comes after TikTok announced on 6 March - a week after Russia's invasion of Ukraine - that it would block the publication of each new content published on Russian soil. [Ascannio/Shutterstock]

Kremlin propaganda is being shared on TikTok by a “network of coordinated accounts” despite the platform’s ban on new Russian content, according to a study. EURACTIV France reports.

A “coordinated network” of TikTok accounts based in Russia has continued to post pro-Kremlin videos, collecting millions of views in the process, despite the ban issued by the Chinese social media platform, according to a report published Tuesday (15 March) by the NGO Tracking Exposed.

The organisation looks into the use of algorithms on platforms and their effects on society.

“At the time of publishing this report on March 15, we were still observing content being posted using the loophole,” the report notes. After verification, EURACTIV also found that several of the accounts pinned by the study are still very active on TikTok.

On 11 March, Vice revealed that Russian influencers were paid to post videos on TikTok promoting the Kremlin’s narrative on the war in Ukraine.

This comes after TikTok announced on 6 March – a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – that it would block the publication of each new content published on Russian soil in response to the country’s “anti-fake news law” aimed at censoring any account that differs from that of Kremlin’s propaganda machine.

TikTok limits service in Russia, breaking ranks with Chinese firms

Video-sharing app TikTok has limited services in Russia after it passed a law criminalising sharing “false” information about the war in Ukraine. The move makes it one of the first Chinese companies to boycott Moscow following the invasion.  

The NGO also criticised the Chinese social media for discreetly making all content published outside Russia unavailable to its Russian users, thus cutting them off from the rest of the world and from information sources not strictly controlled by Moscow.

“TikTok is restricting information about the Ukraine-Russia war in a way that is above and
beyond what is required in response to the Russian “fake news” law,” the study reads.

The TikTok accounts of the BBC and CNN, for example, still exist, but none of their videos are available to Russian users. This is not the case for pro-Russian media RT and Sputnik, which despite being banned in Europe, remain accessible in Russia.

The restrictions have also resulted in 55 million Russian users being cut off from 95% of the TikTok content that used to be available to them.

“The era of the free internet in Russia just came to a sudden end,” said Marc Faddoul, co-director of Tracking Exposed.

After other social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were blocked, “the only global platform still available in Russia is effectively turning into a propaganda channel for the Kremlin”, said Faddoul. “Russia seems to be moving towards the Chinese model of internet censorship,” he added.

Contacted by EURACTIV, TikTok declined to comment on the alleged “loophole”. However, a company spokesperson did comment on the situation, saying “our top priority is the safety of our employees and users” and that TikTok continues to “assess developments in Russia to determine” when it might be possible for their services to return to normal.

Platforms scale up efforts to tackle Russian war propaganda

Some of the world’s biggest tech platforms are rolling out unprecedented actions designed to stem the tide of Kremlin-sponsored disinformation surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Nathalie Weatherald]

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