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New Report Shows TikTok Manipulates Algorithm Based On Chinese Government Priorities

New Report Shows TikTok Manipulates Algorithm Based On Chinese Government Priorities

A new report has found that Chinese-owned social media application TikTok is weaponizing its algorithm to promote or demote content based on whether it either aligns with or opposes the interests of the Chinese government.

The new study by Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) and Rutgers University was conducted by analyzing hashtag data related to six topics directly sensitive to the Chinese Community Party (CCP):

  1. Uyghur Muslims

  2. Tiananmen Square

  3. Tibet

  4. Hong Kong

  5. Taiwan

  6. South China Sea

The researchers say their presentation of data begins with Uyghyrs and Tiananmen Square because those topics were specifically mentioned during congressional hearing earlier this year, during which the platform’s top official denied that posts on those topics were suppressed or demoted.

In March, lawmakers grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew over whether the app was damaging to children’s mental health.

Chew denied the app shares data with the Chinese government, stating the company has built “what amounts to a firewall to seal off protected U.S. user data from unauthorized foreign access. The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel.”

The NCRI study was expanded to include topics relevant to the CCP’s geopolitical interests:

  1.  Ukraine-Russia War

  2.  Kashmir Independence

  3.  Israel-Hamas War

After analyzing the data, NCRI found that TikTok content is promoted or suppressed based on how closely it aligns with the interests of the Chinese Government.

NCRI “reasoned that the wide reach of platforms like Instagram and TikTok should ensure comparable use of popular culture hashtags.”

Yet, pop culture and political posts, relative to similar posts on Instagram, had a much higher visibility than posts on the first six topics listed above, which are considered sensitive by Chinese officials.

When examining anomalies on the other three topics, those hashtags were “dramatically underrepresented on TikTok vs. Instagram,” the report says.

Based on the study, NCRI explains, “we assess a strong possibility that content on TikTok is either amplified or suppressed based on its alignment with the interests of the Chinese Government.”

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