Recent revelations have shed light on a concerning trend involving TikTok, as Chinese state propaganda outlets flood the platform with a deluge of ads targeting millions of European users. TikTok’s new ad library, released on July 20, reveals a range of promotions encompassing subjects from defending China’s Covid-19 lockdowns to portraying the Xinjiang region as a picturesque tourist destination, despite the region’s history of human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims.
Propaganda Disguised as Advertisements
The ad library analysis conducted by Forbes uncovers a startling revelation: over 1,000 ads from Chinese state media entities, such as People’s Daily and CGTN, have been featured on TikTok since October 2022. These ads, served to audiences across various European countries, attempt to shape narratives about China’s economy, technology prowess, and cultural heritage. Notably, references to Xinjiang—the site of alleged mass persecution and detention of Uyghur Muslims—appear in numerous ads, raising concerns about the platform’s role in disseminating controversial content.
Highlighting China’s Interests and Agendas
The ads range from seemingly benign topics, like a man dancing in Xinjiang, to more overtly political content. Some ads focus on praising China’s Belt & Road Initiative and criticizing U.S. and European resistance to it. Others spotlight individuals accusing Western media of misrepresenting China’s human rights record. These advertisements underscore the multifaceted nature of China’s messaging strategy and its attempt to influence public opinion on a global scale.
Navigating TikTok’s Ad Policy and Labeling
TikTok’s ad policies purportedly prohibit political, election-related, and social issue ads. However, the platform’s recent exposure to Chinese state media content has raised questions about the effectiveness of these policies. While TikTok labels accounts run by state media, its ad labeling system is still in the process of expansion. TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza did not respond to inquiries about the potential contradiction between these ads and TikTok’s no-political-ads policy.
Scrutiny and Global Implications
TikTok’s association with the Chinese state has attracted significant attention and scrutiny from governments worldwide. Concerns about the potential manipulation of civic discourse, especially in democratic nations, have led to investigations and bans in several European countries. Regulators worry that TikTok could serve as a tool for the Chinese government to sway public opinion and narratives in favor of its interests.
As TikTok grapples with its role in disseminating Chinese state propaganda, the platform finds itself at the center of a debate concerning transparency, influence, and ethical responsibility. The flood of ads from Chinese state media outlets reflects a larger battle for control over information and narratives in the digital age. As TikTok navigates this complex landscape, its policies and actions will undoubtedly continue to be scrutinized by governments, regulators, and users alike.