China is publicly siding with Russia politically in its inhumane invasion of Ukraine, but when it comes to technology, things are a bit more convoluted. Last month TikTok seemingly joined other big tech companies siding with Ukraine over Russia in the war by suspending uploads and live streams from Russia.
TikTok said it made the move, along with others, to “protect Russia users from the country’s new laws criminalizing criticism of its military” , reports The Washington Post. However, the Chinese-owned social media app “also walled off Russian users from seeing any posts at all from outside the country, including from Ukraine.”
Thus, a censored, ‘alternate universe’ was created for tens of millions of Russians who were unable to see and learn of the critical posts and atrocities the Kremlin was creating outside the Russian TikTok bubble.
Giulia Giorgi, a researcher at Tracking Exposed shared with The Washington Post that “in just one month, TikTok went from being considered a serious threat to Putin’s national support for the war to becoming another possible conduit for state propaganda.”
Tracking exposed has been studying the platform’s policies and actions in Russia since February when the invasion of Ukraine began. “Our findings show clearly how TikTok’s actions influenced that trajectory” Giorgi said of the escalation of state propaganda.
Giorgi shared information with The Washington Post “that videos bearing pro-war hashtags such as ‘for us’ and ‘Putin top’ continued to proliferate on TikTok in Russia for weeks after the block, while previously popular antiwar hashtags all but vanished from the platform.”
Tracking Exposed’s co-director added “our findings unequivocally show that TikTok is not being transparent about its actions in Russia” said Marc Faddoul.
Among the new findings is that TikTok appears to have belatedly closed a loophole in late March that Russian propagandists and creators alike had been exploiting to evade its ban on new video uploads from inside the country. Since March 26, according to Tracking Exposed and others, TikTok users who access the app from Russia cannot see any new content at all, with the app’s For You page limited to posts from inside Russia before that date. Yet thousands of pro-Putin posts that went up between March 6 and March 26, circumventing TikTok’s stated policies, remain available on the platform, uncontested by any outside or antiwar narratives.
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