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TikTok called for lack of advertising transparency and failure to monitor the political Payola – TechCrunch

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TikTok announced a ban on political advertising back in 2019. So one might think that the ugly problem of democracy-destroying political disinformation in his walled garden does not apply to the dancing Generation Zers. But you’d be wrong

New research from Mozilla suggests that political loopholes and lax oversight, especially in the area of ​​influencer marketing, coupled with a persistent lack of ad transparency from TikTok – which doesn’t offer a publicly searchable ad archive – make its video-sharing platform vulnerable to the Propagation of political advertisements make organic content.

Mozilla says it found more than a dozen cases of TikTok influencers across the political spectrum being paid (or otherwise compensated) by a variety of political organizations to spread partisan messages without disclosing that those posts were sponsored .

“Our research found that TikTok influencers across the political spectrum had undisclosed paid relationships with various political organizations in the US,” it reads. “Several right-wing TikTok influencers appear to be conservative funded
Organizations like Turning Point USA, a tax-exempt nonprofit that has a dedicated influencer program specifically designed to fund young conservative social media content creators. “

Examples of TikTok influencers spreading political messages (Photo credits: Mozilla)

Similarly, evidence was found that left-wing sponsored political messages were disseminated without adequate disclosure by TikTok influencers, noting, “We found some evidence that progressive influencers backed by left-wing political organizations got ahead of the US Presidential election pro-Biden messages published. For example, The 99 Problems created and funded the House of US Hype House account, on which influencers post political messages. “

In the report “These Are Not Political Ad $: How Partisan Influencers Are Evading TikTok’s Weak Political Ad Policies”, Mozilla points out that the platform does not offer adequate tools for “influencers” – also known as users who have one have amassed enough followers to become attractive targets for advertisers, to create paid posts – to report sponsorship and to point out that other major social media platforms (like Facebook / Instagram) offer such tools and influencer content Report when they fail to properly report ads.

“Of course, it’s hard to know how the self-disclosure guidelines are enforced across platforms, but TikTok is way behind Instagram and YouTube when it comes to providing tools and issuing clear, strict and transparent guidelines,” writes Mozilla in the test report.

According to TikTok rules, content creators must self-identify (usually by using the hashtag #ad or #sponsored) all paid content, in accordance with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines on the disclosure of paid influence.

But, as Mozilla points out, when TikTok doesn’t actively monitor or question influencer advertising (as the report suggests), it raises obvious concerns about how the platform can claim to enforce its “trust and security” protocols.

Mozilla’s report also points to rumors that TikTok is testing features that allow influencers to pay to continue promoting certain posts – which could exacerbate the “dark money” political disinformation problem, that is, if not with active monitoring and control Enforcement of sponsorship disclosures is combined.

“There doesn’t seem to be any security in place preventing YouTubers from using this feature to promote paid political embassies,” she warns. “It is unclear how TikTok monitors this content to make sure it is in line with its political advertising policy.”

Another major criticism in the report is TikTok’s general lack of ad transparency compared to other social platforms – with Mozilla’s report indicating that it doesn’t offer public, searchable ad databases like others (including Facebook / Instagram, Snap, and Google / YouTube) do ) to do . Twitter also has a searchable ad archive since 2018.

“Mozilla believes Facebook and Google are doing a bad job with ad transparency Tick ​​tock not even being able to keep up with them is worrying, ”the report notes.

In recommendations to TikTok (or to policy makers drafting laws to prevent the abuse of such platforms), Mozilla suggests that it develop specific mechanisms for content creators to reveal partnerships; Invest in full ad transparency, including the introduction of an ad database that includes paid partnerships (not just native platform ads); and updates its policies and enforcement processes to cover all ways in which paid political influence can take place on its platform.

TikTok was contacted with questions about its approach to ad transparency and sponsored content. It sent this statement:

Political advertising is not allowed on TikTok, and we continue to invest in people and technology to consistently enforce this policy and develop tools for YouTubers on our platform. As we develop our approach, we welcome feedback from experts, including researchers from the Mozilla Foundation, and look forward to ongoing dialogue as we work to develop equitable policies and tools that promote transparency, accountability, and creativity.

There are indications that TikTok is trying to forestall the criticism in the report – as Mozilla’s researcher Becca Ricks notes that the company only recently (“within the last week”) issued a branded content policy.

“That includes a mention of a ‘branded content switch’ that helps influencers reveal paid partnerships,” she continued, adding, “We are currently analyzing the feature to find out more. However, we are cautiously optimistic that this could be a (small) step in the right direction, especially since we addressed these questions directly with TikTok during our research two weeks ago.

“Still, Mozilla’s other recommendations – and all of the problems we’ve uncovered in research – remain. So TikTok has a long way to go to be really transparent. “

Mozilla’s report is just the latest black cloud to fall over TikTok’s platform, which is under pressure on various fronts for its content and general policies, including ad disclosure.

Last week, EU regulators launched a formal “dialogue” with TikTok following a series of complaints from consumer groups alleging that the platform had hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques for children, and misleading and confusing terms and conditions.

Other regional complaints have highlighted TikTok’s approach to privacy and user data. And it is being sued in the UK for handling children’s data.

Concerns about a weak age verification also led to intervention by the Italian Data Protection Agency earlier this year, which responded to concerns about the safety of underage users. In this case, TikTok was forced to remove more than half a million accounts that were suspected of being used by children under the age of 13.

In recent months, TikTok has been trying to polish its image with policymakers, announcing a “transparency center” in the US last year – and another for Europe in April – saying these centers would provide a space for outside experts to access Provide information about its content moderation and security guidelines.

However, Mozilla said the centers suffered from a lack of transparency towards advertisements under TikTok’s ban on political advertising, “for example.

TikTok’s opacity around ads seems to be borrowed time as the issue of transparency in online political ads comes to the fore around the world.

In the US, a bipartisan bill to regulate online platforms that sell ads was tabled in 2017 – although progress stalled as the bill was not passed before the 2019 US presidential election.

In Europe, legislators are expected to come up with a regulatory proposal this fall to tighten disclosure and reporting requirements for platforms as part of a broader package of digital reforms aimed at security, transparency and accountability.

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