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TikTok to crack down on paid influencer political ads ahead of midterms

TikTok will label all content related to the midterms and crack down on paid influencer political ads as part of its plans to prepare for the upcoming elections, the company announced Wednesday. 

The popular video sharing app will label content identified as being related to the elections and all content from accounts that belong to governments, politicians and political parties in the U.S. 

The labels will direct users to click to enter the TikTok Elections Center, a resource with information available in more than 45 languages about elections and voting access created with partner organizations. 

The center launches Wednesday, six weeks earlier than it did ahead of the 2020 election. TikTok head of safety Eric Han said the earlier launch date will help “capture more of the midterms conversation over the summer months.”

TikTok’s ban on political advertising includes content influencers are paid to create, but the paid influencer content can be harder to detect than a traditional ad. 

As part of the effort to mitigate such content, over the next few weeks TikTok will publish a series of educational content on the Creator Portal and host briefings with creators and agencies to explain the rules. If TikTok discovers political content was paid for and not properly disclosed, it will be removed from the platform. 

The platform also has a tool that allows creators to disclose when they’re working with a branded partner, which it did not have in 2020. 

TikTok is pledging to weed out election misinformation and harassment targeting election workers as well.

As posts are being fact-checked, they will be ineligible for recommendation into users’ “For You” feeds, the place where users largely engage with content on the app. Posts that are found to be misinformation will be removed. 

If a post is deemed “unsubstantiated,” but not false, it will remain on the app but stay ineligible for recommendation. Users will also be prompted to reconsider sharing posts that are deemed “unsubstantiated.” 

TikTok’s announcement comes as other platforms, such as Meta, are rolling out plans to tackle election misinformation. Social media companies have faced scrutiny in the last few election cycles over their handling of misinformation.

TikTok is facing another facet of scrutiny over national security concerns stemming from fears that the Chinese government could access information about U.S. users through user data on TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based Bytedance.

The House’s chief administration officer warned lawmakers last week about security concerns tied to the app as more lawmakers use it to reach voters — especially young voters. 

“The ‘TikTok’ mobile application has been deemed by the CAO Office of CyberSecurity to be a high-risk to users due to its lack of transparency in how it protects customer data, its requirement of excessive permissions, and the potential security risks involved with its use,” the office wrote in a memo released Tuesday.

TikTok pushed back on those claims in a memo Tuesday, according to a copy obtained by Politico. 

TikTok said the advisory sent out last week contains inaccurate information and needs to be rescinded. 

In response to security concerns, TikTok has pledged to move U.S. users’ data to third-party Oracle servers. 

Oracle is also vetting TikTok’s algorithms and content moderation models to make sure they are not manipulated by Chinese authorities, Han, TikTok’s head of safety, confirmed on a call with reporters Tuesday. The news was first reported by Axios.

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