Our research was primarily conducted in February 2021. We used several different methods in our analysis, employing desk research, technical tools, and qualitative methods to identify paid political influence on TikTok.
First, we analyzed TikTok's policies and public press statements to better understand the platform’s rules on advertising. Specifically, we looked at the platform’s ban on political advertising and its self-disclosure policies for content creators.
We created a short list of popular political influencer TikTok accounts in the U.S. Using an API wrapper created by David Teather, we then queried the TikTok API to generate a list of related accounts based on our short list. Next, we reviewed individual TikTok posts from these accounts and identified related hashtags and users to continue adding to our list. We built a small dataset of accounts, users, and TikTok posts to analyze.
From our dataset, we then analyzed each TikTok post’s content, including the video, the description, and the metadata. We chose to scrutinize posts that we determined contained political content and potential evidence of a paid partnership. We looked for language that implied the influencer was paid or received some form of compensation, as well as promotion of a political group or messaging.