TikTok Struggles to Find Footing in Wartime


TikTookay exploded as a social-media app with foolish movies that includes lip-syncing, dance strikes and sensible jokes. Now some customers are creating infinite feeds of battle memes and state propaganda which can be influencing international views on the conflict in Ukraine.

That transformation presents the short-video app, whose guardian is Chinese know-how big ByteDance Ltd., with considered one of its largest challenges because it was launched about 5 years in the past.

As tensions between Russia and Ukraine rose, TikTookay grappled internally with how to cope with its heightened position in geopolitics, folks conversant in the matter stated. Some of TikTookay’s content material moderators struggled to determine whether or not to keep away from recommending sure posts, take away them from the app or prohibit the creators’ accounts, they stated.

The content material moderators have additionally been confused about how to cope with some clips flagged by the app’s content-filtering techniques, the folks stated. Without detailed directions in place for war-related content material, junior-level managers have been charged with refining the principles as they went alongside, the folks stated. The end result was inconsistencies in therapy of comparable content material, they stated.

“We continue to respond to the war in Ukraine with increased safety and security resources to detect emerging threats and remove harmful misinformation,” a TikTookay spokeswoman stated.

TikTookay on Sunday took its largest step but, suspending new video uploads and dwell streaming from Russia, citing the protection of its workers after Russia handed a brand new “fake news” legislation. The transfer, which adopted pullbacks by different main tech and media companies from their operations there, was notable on condition that TikTookay’s guardian, ByteDance, is predicated in Beijing, the place the federal government has shunned supporting Western sanctions on Russia.

An aerial view exhibits a residential constructing destroyed by shelling, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in the settlement of Borodyanka in Kyiv area on March 3.



This got here a couple of week after TikTookay stated that it would restrict access to some Russian state-controlled media accounts, together with RT and Sputnik, in the European Union. In an indication of the gravity of the matter, TikTookay notified executives at ByteDance in Beijing, who didn’t contest the choice, one particular person conversant in the matter stated. A TikTookay spokeswoman stated its chief govt has full autonomy for all choices about TikTookay’s operations.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, social-media customers have devoured pictures and video clips uploaded to platforms together with TikTookay,


Platforms Inc.’s Facebook, Twitter Inc., and Google’s YouTube. TikTookay in specific has offered a ground-level, usually visceral view of recent warfare, however social-media researchers say it has additionally turn out to be a hotbed of unreliable info.

“People go to TikTok for entertainment but are being served up unclear and even misleading information about the war,” stated Anne Kruger, a Sydney-based director for misinformation-research group First Draft. The platform’s fixed video replays assist reinforce messages, she stated.

As Russian troops superior on Ukraine, one extensively shared video on TikTookay of navy planes flying in formation claimed to be footage of the invasion. PolitiFact, a Washington, D.C.-based fact-checking web site, later discovered that the video was taken from a Russian navy parade in mid-2020. The video has since been eliminated.

A WSJ investigation reveals Russian troops and navy gear moved out of huge seen garrisons in Russia and dispersed into smaller, harder-to-track items alongside the northeastern border of Ukraine earlier than invasion. Photo illustration: Ryan Trefes (Video from 2.24/22)

Another video of troopers parachuting right into a battle zone was watched by 20 million TikTookay customers earlier than being eliminated—after the footage was discovered to be from seven years in the past, in accordance to First Draft.

Such content material usually carries a message looking for donations or ideas for the content material creator in obvious efforts to monetize their clips.

“Globally, the platform has become a prominent space for many across the world to view and become informed about the invasion,” stated Ciarán O’Connor, an Ireland-based researcher on the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “But it’s also become an instrument in information warfare too.”

To make certain, TikTookay is much from the one platform contending with false info. But Mr. O’Connor stated his analysis confirmed that TikTookay was stronger in disseminating false details about Ukraine by Russian state-controlled media in contrast with different social media.

The TikTookay profile for RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan isn’t labeled as state media. The account posted movies of Kremlin propaganda which were seen greater than 20 million instances.

He analyzed 12 TikTookay movies posted by the editor in chief of Russia’s state-linked information broadcaster RT that promoted Kremlin propaganda of Ukraine as an aggressor. Posted on an account that wasn’t labeled as state media, the movies have been seen 21.3 million instances as of March 8, greater than the 11 million views she had garnered from posting 21 movies on YouTube. TikTookay’s state-media labeling coverage solely applies to organizations.

Just days earlier than the battle in Ukraine broke out, TikTookay’s senior employees gathered on-line to suggest new guidelines to their groups that function the platform for the Russian and Ukrainian markets, stated folks conversant in the matter. The employees got here from authorized, public coverage, and belief and security groups globally, principally based mostly in TikTookay’s massive regional bases reminiscent of Dublin and Singapore, a number of the folks stated.

The short-video app’s leaders have been assembly repeatedly to focus on methods to reply to the disaster, and it runs an operation middle open in any respect hours to reply to unfolding occasions, TikTookay stated. Its international belief and security crew, led by a head in Dublin, oversees and enforces their content material insurance policies, it stated.

As a end result, TikTookay began operating war-related movies by means of on-line open sources and databases to verify whether or not the footage had existed on-line earlier than the battle, looking for to establish and take down outdated photos of jet fighters, bombings and navy operations being handed off as latest content material, folks conversant in the matter stated.

Other platforms have been forward of TikTookay in addressing a few of these points.

Within days of the battle in Ukraine breaking out, Meta, Twitter and YouTube detailed the steps they have been taking to scale back information that they deem to be false or deceptive. The corporations launched new insurance policies and commenced labeling and demoting posts from, and containing hyperlinks to, state-linked Russian media.

The three have additionally detailed how they’ve eliminated and completely suspended accounts, movies and posts both originating from Russia concentrating on Ukraine or for misleading practices and misinformation. TikTookay hasn’t publicly disclosed any concrete information concerning removing of inauthentic posts and customers.

Chinese know-how big ByteDance is TikTookay’s guardian.


greg baker/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Write to Liza Lin at [email protected]

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