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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    TikTok says it removed an influence campaign originating in China

    Dominant short-video platform TikTok said Thursday that it had taken down thousands of accounts that belonged to 15 covert influence operations in the first four months of this year, including the second largest such network detected from China.

    The company, which is under threat in the United States because of its Chinese ownership, said that in February it removed 16 accounts based in China that promoted the policies of the ruling Chinese Communist Party as well as Chinese culture. The network had 110,000 accounts following it, TikTok said. In the second quarter of last year, the company took down a different Chinese information operation that had 141,000 followers.

    Some of the accounts impersonated celebrities or leading creators to build their audience, according to TikTok, which said the campaign was aimed at people in the United States.

    Overwhelmingly popular with young people who increasingly rely on it as a news source, TikTok sued the U.S. government this month to overturn a law requiring its China-based parent ByteDance to sell off the company or face a possible ban.

    One of the most significant technology policy bills enacted in a decade by an often deadlocked Congress, the law cast TikTok as a threat to national security because, officials said, it might obtain sensitive data about American users and could indoctrinate them into beliefs supporting China’s global ambitions. No such campaign has been reported, however.

    Some legal experts give the company’s legal action a good chance of succeeding, owing to free-speech rights of 170 million U.S. users and the bill’s focus on a single company. The company says it will not be sold.

    While TikTok has taken down propaganda networks before, it is now moving to highlight those efforts as it fights for survival in the United States. The company said it will break out influence campaign takedowns in a separate transparency report, instead of combining summaries of its actions in a broader report that comes out once every three months.

    Company spokesperson Jamie Favazza said that takedown reports could also come out closer to when TikTok acts, rather than being kept back for quarterly release.

    As with other social networks and media platforms, influence operations are common on TikTok and often evade detection. Russia has recently increased its presence on TikTok, The Washington Post reported earlier this month.

    Unlike the Chinese network, which targeted users outside China, most of the covert operations TikTok reported dismantling so far this year originated in the same country as their target audience.

    Among the largest were a pro-Ukraine campaign aimed at an audience there that amassed more than 2 million followers, another one targeting Iraqis with anti-American and anti-Israeli content that had 448,000 followers, and an internal Indonesian campaign promoting one presidential candidate’s narratives to 148,000 followers.

    In most cases, TikTok discovered the campaigns on its own. It does not attribute any of them to a specific government or private actor, and it did not release the names of the suspended accounts.

    In a year filled with elections around the world, TikTok also said it would add to its policies that identify state-controlled media outlets. Those accounts will only be able to advertise in their home markets, and they will not appear in the recommended feed for viewers elsewhere.

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