Tiktok can no longer restrict pro-war content in Russia

As Tiktok tries to protect Russian users from fake news, pro-war content continues to proliferate on the platform.

Tracking Exposeda European NGO specializing in digital rights has just published a study decrying TikTok’s inability to filter out pro-war content in Russia since military forces invaded Ukraine.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram having been banned by the Kremlin, Tiktok remains the last major social platform still operating in Putin’s country. Thus, from March 7, the social network then banned new uploads in an attempt to protect Russian users from fake news. Unfortunately, this approach will have had the opposite effect.

A fixed platform

By banning the uploading of videos, Tiktok has therefore frozen its platform, which finds itself without new content, leaving Russian users unable to find out about new developments in the ongoing conflict.

Comparing the figures obtained by Tracking Exposed before and after the ban imposed by Tiktok shows a real filtering problem. Their study analyzes data samples observed between February 20 and April 5, 2022.

The NGO estimates that before the Tiktok restrictions were announced and put in place, 42% of content related to the war was against it compared to 58% pro-war. After the restrictions, the change in situation is unprecedented with 93.5% pro-war content compared to 6.5% anti-war content.

© Tracking Exposed

Such a reversal should not normally have been possible, since the publication of content was simply disabled. But simple loopholes discovered by pro-war Russians turned Tiktok’s initiative into a a real way to flood users with propaganda content.

Fatal flaws

Two main flaws were discovered by Tracking Exposed, and these were exploited from March 7 to March 24 before Tiktok patched them.

Russian tiktokers were then able to upload videos due to an implementation of restrictions that did not seem to cover all users, as well as the ability to upload content via the web version of the platform. As a result, in the space of 18 days, the platform found itself transformed into a real place of propaganda to the detriment of the Russian population in search of information.

The power of networks in times of war

This situation highlights the complexity of managing such a geopolitical crisis for digital players. With a constant need to be informed which increases disproportionately for a population facing a conflict, the networks then become the first vector of communication and information.

But this then poses a dilemma that is difficult to resolve. Is it better to leave access to the networks for all at the risk of disinformation spreading, or is it fairer to deactivate them and go through other channels?

The Tracking Exposed study seems to show that even when efforts are made to restrict the dissemination of false content, the creators of this information eventually find a way around the problem. Digital spaces then find themselves confined for the majority of users, while organizations manage to use the little remaining space to distribute malicious content.

Despite everything, the NGO condemns Tiktok’s decision-making, which it considers dangerous now that “critics of the invasion have disappeared” networks.
Marc Faddoul, co-director of Tracking Exposed also adds that “now the Russians are left with a frozen Tiktok, there will be no Russian Spring on the platform.

Source: Journal du Geek by www.journaldugeek.com.

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