TikTok may be ahead of the trends when it comes to viral hashtag challenges but they’re falling dangerously behind other social media platforms in preventing disinformation and dark money political influence.
Unlike most other social media platforms, TikTok does not share any information about who is buying ads on their platform, and for what purpose. They say that they don’t need ad transparency because they’ve banned political ads—one of the most important types of advertising—from the platform. But our new research reveals a different story: Loopholes, lax oversight, and new forms of political advertising mean TikTok isn’t free from partisan ads. Indeed, the platform is teeming with them — but it’s impossible to see who from, why and where political ads exist on this growing and influential platform. Most worryingly, we found that this is all hidden from view of the public and that TikTok has little to no safeguards in place to stop it.
Ad transparency is a crucial safeguard. That’s why Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook have all built ad databases where anyone can check and see what ads are running on the platform, and why Mozilla has been campaigning for the last few years to make these databases work better.
With upcoming elections around the world, including a major election in Germany this September, TikTok must take immediate action to implement ad transparency and prevent their platform from becoming the next hotspot for disinformation and shady political influence.