Political TikTok accounts run by the propaganda division of the Chinese government have gained millions of followers and pushed out an increasing number of videos.
- Chinese TikTok accounts that contain videos and clips about U.S. politics have garnered millions of followers and tens of millions of views, Forbes reports.
- Videos on the account also feature commentary on divisive topics such as gun control and abortion.
- These accounts do not contain a disclosure letting viewers know that the commentary is provided by a foreign government.
- The account—many of which editorialize videos of U.S. politicians—are managed by MediaLinks TV which is a registered foreign agent and outlet of the Chinese Communist Party’s television network.
- Among the most popular of these accounts are @Pandaorama, an account featuring videos about Chinese culture; @The…Optimist, an environmental and sustainability account; and @NewsTokss, an account discussing both U.S. and international news.
Why it’s news
U.S. government officials have long been warning about potential security threats of the Chinese social media app TikTok. Some have gone so far as to call for its complete removal and several others have pushed for changes that would keep American users’ data in the U.S.
The main security concern has centered around TikTok retaining user data that Chinese employees at ByteDance have access to, but new reports from Forbes showcase worries about Chinese propaganda and influence.
Shortly before the 2022 midterm elections, @NewsTokss released videos that were critical of certain candidates and supportive of others. Predominantly, the account criticized Republican candidates and posted favorably about Democratic candidates.
For example, videos in July and October had titles such as “Cruz, Abbot Don’t Care About Us” and “Rubio Has Done Absolutely Nothing.” Another video criticized President Joe Biden’s attempts to codify abortion and called it a “political manipulation tactic.”
Some of the account’s most popular videos, however, were not overtly political but socially divisive. These videos focus on topics such as gun control, abortion, and racism.
The account also promotes videos from controversial figures like Alex Jones, Vladimir Putin, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
None of these videos contained a disclosure that they were posted by a foreign government. TikTok had previously planned to label election-related content. Paid political posts or advertising are not permitted on the platform, but some content creators find ways around the regulations.
Accounts run by MediaLinks do have disclosures in the bio such as “Material distributed by MediaLinks TV LLC on behalf of CCTV. More info at DOJ, D.C.” However, many viewers may be unfamiliar with this language and not understand what it means.
Chinese media using social media to manipulate foreign viewers is nothing new—the Chinese government has done it before through Facebook and Twitter, but this marks the first confirmed report that the government is using TikTok to do the same, Forbes reports.
TikTok is also significant as it is among the first Chinese social media apps to gain significant traction in the U.S. Other social media platforms in the U.S. label posts from Chinese state media.
Backing up a bit
An analysis of LinkedIn profiles has revealed that 300 TikTok employees once worked for the Chinese state media.
Forbes reviewed hundreds of LinkedIn profiles of current employees of TikTok and ByteDance, the company that owns the site, finding that 300 of them were once Chinese state media employees.
Of these profiles, 23 were managing “content partnerships, public affairs, corporate social responsibility, and media cooperation.”
Fifteen of the profiles indicate that the employees are also currently employed by Chinese state media groups, several of which are identified by the State Department as extensions of the Chinese government.