TikTok quietly reduces data tools used by critics
TikTok has quietly banned one of its few tools to help measure the popularity of trends on the video app after the tool's results were used by researchers and lawmakers to target sites related to geopolitics and the Israel-Hamas war. But it was done to check the material.
The tool, called Creative Center, aims to help advertisers track popular hashtags on the site. The Creative Center is available to anyone and can generate statistics about the number of videos associated with a certain hashtag and information about the audiences who watched those videos.
Critics of the company have used the tool to argue that TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, fails to adequately moderate content on the app and that Beijing controls posts that appear on it. Affects. TikTok itself has cited this hashtag data Pushing back against claims of pro-Palestinian bias.
But since last week, there was no “Search” button on the tool and links to hashtags related to the war and US politics had stopped working. TikTok said the tool now focuses on sharing data on the top 100 hashtags across different industries, such as pets or travel.
Company spokesperson Alex Haurek said, “Unfortunately, some individuals and organizations have misused the search function of the center to draw incorrect conclusions, so we are changing some features to ensure it can be used for its intended purpose.” Is done for.” TikTok said that this tool was created in 2020.
The change highlights the pressure TikTok has come under since the start of the war. Lawmakers and researchers have examined the app's impact on young Americans and fear how Beijing could potentially influence content on TikTok. There have been efforts in Washington to ban the app – an outcome many consider unlikely – or force a sale of TikTok to a US company.
The Network Contagion Research Institute at Rutgers University, which tracks misinformation and extremism online, flagged the changes last week. The group used it for a report last month that said topics Beijing is suppressing within its borders, such as the Uighur population and Hong Kong protests, were unusually underrepresented on TikTok compared to Instagram. I went.
The researchers said they could no longer find data about the hashtags they studied, which included current events like #BLM, #Trump2024 and #Biden.
“Anything that's politically sensitive or could be politically sensitive or explosive is gone, and anything that's M&M or pop culture, no problem,” said Joel Finkelstein, founder of the Network Contagion Research Institute. Is.” “It's really unsurprising to me that they didn't announce it or say anything about it.”
TikTok, which has repeatedly said the Chinese government has no influence on the app, said the report used “a flawed methodology to reach a preconceived, false conclusion.” Some outside experts also cautioned against drawing too many concrete conclusions from the hashtag data.
But experts also said the research raised interesting questions, and at least some lawmakers, including Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, praised the report as part of a broader effort to regulate TikTok.
Other social networks, such as X and Facebook, also offer little data about how people use the services, or how the posting algorithms work. Like some other social networks, TikTok has an application process for researchers who want to study the platform independently.
Joshua Tucker, co-director of the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University, said the United States needs regulation requiring social media platforms to share data with outside researchers.
“Leaving decisions about transparency up to the platforms means that, by definition, we are going to get policies that the platforms feel are in their interests at that particular moment,” Mr. Tucker said. “Sometimes those policies may align well with the interests of societies, journalists and outside researchers, and sometimes they may not.”