As internet platforms continue to struggle with misleading and opaque political advertising, TikTok has branded itself as an outlier. The platform claims to have banned all political advertising, and positions itself as far more transparent than peers like Facebook and Google. But new research from Mozilla reveals a different story: Loopholes, lax oversight, and new forms of political advertising mean TikTok isn’t free from partisan ads.
This investigation reveals how political influencers are flying under the radar on TikTok, because TikTok’s political ad policies are not strong and enforceable enough to monitor the full breadth of paid political influence on the platform.
Our research suggests that TikTok influencers in the U.S. are being supported by political organizations to post content espousing their views. Despite the fact that TikTok “bans” political advertising, these creators regularly use their platforms to disseminate political messaging and viewpoints and they don’t always disclose their paid partnerships.
Furthermore, we found that TikTok does not effectively monitor and enforce its rule that creators must disclose paid partnerships, nor does the platform proactively label sponsored posts as advertisements. Inconsistent disclosure practices—paired with zero ad transparency tools—makes it very difficult to monitor how political organizations are paying for influence on TikTok.
To address these problems and safeguard against abuse of the platform, we’ve also developed a set of recommendations to help TikTok and policymakers prepare for future elections around the world. TikTok should:
- Develop mechanisms for creators to disclose paid partnerships.
- Invest in comprehensive advertising transparency on the platform, including introducing an ad database that includes paid partnerships.
- Update its policies and enforcement processes on political advertisements to ensure that they include all ways that paid political influence can happen on the platform.
These three recommendations complement and reinforce Mozilla’s broader recommendations to lawmakers on online political advertising.