A Chinese government public relations entity attempted to open a stealth account in ICT Tac targeting Western audiences with propaganda, according to internal posts seen by Bloomberg.
The attempt, which received the pushback from TikTok executiveshighlights internal tensions within the fast-growing social media app owned by ByteDancebased in Beijing, which has consistently sought to distance itself from the influence of the Chinese state.
In an April 2020 message to Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok’s head of government relations for the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Israel, a colleague marked a “Chinese government entity that wants to join TikTok but it doesn’t want to be openly seen as a government account” because the main purpose is to promote content that shows the best side of China (a kind of propaganda).”
The messages indicate that some of the key members of ByteDance’s government relations team, including Kanter and Erich Andersen, the US-based global director of corporate affairs and general counsel, discussed the matter internally but declined the request, which they described as “sensitive”. TikTok used the incident to spark an internal discussion about other sensitive requests, according to the posts.
“We declined to offer assistance with this request, as we believed that creating such an account would violate our community guidelinessaid a TikTok spokeswoman, who downplayed the incident as an informal request from a friend of an employee.
TikTok has rules against “coordinated inauthentic behavior”, where accounts hide their true identities to exert influence or sway public opinion, and against political advertising, the spokeswoman said.
TikTok allows certain Chinese government entities, including the Chinese Embassy in the United States, to have verified accounts. The company plans to expand its state-controlled media policy, which labels state accounts, in the “coming months” to include other government entities, the spokeswoman added.
Kanter and Andersen declined to comment. The Chinese government did not respond to a request for comment.
The messages appeared the same week as the British Foreign Secretary, Liz Trusspromised to take strong measures against Chinese companies, including TikTok, in a face-to-face debate with Rishi Sunak as part of his campaign to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized Truss’ comments on Monday.
“I want to impress on some British politicians that making irresponsible comments about China, including the exaggeration of the so-called threat from China, it cannot solve its own problems,” Zhao said at a regular press conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
The extent to which the Chinese government exerts influence over ByteDance has been a voltage source for TikTok as it expands internationally. In September 2020, the Trump administration accused TikTok of being “a mouthpiece” for the Communist Party as part of a latest push to shut down the app in the US if it was not sold to an owner. American.
The same month, Australia’s Strategic Policy Institute said in a report that TikTok often buries or hides words that reflect political movements, including criticism of Vladimir Putin, as well as hashtags related to gender and sexual orientation or to religion in most of the countries where it operates. . At this moment, TikTok has strongly denied that it would cooperate with any request from the Chinese regime.
Social entertainment platforms like Douyinthe Chinese version of TikTok, Bilibili and Weibo to boost the propaganda to young people from China.
The Youth League, the branch of the Communist Party for young members, is among the main creators of Douyin, with around 8 million followers, twice that of Taylor Swift.
Douyin, available in local app stores, operates as a separate entity. Both TikTok and Douyin focus on creating and sharing short videos, but Douyin has content controls in place to comply with Chinese law.
The Chinese government wanted guidance on how to handle an account that would appeal to a Western audience and that they “also mentioned payment,” according to messages seen by Bloomberg.