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New study suggests CCP is controlling Tik Tok's algorithms
Photo Illustration by Idrees Abbas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

New study suggests CCP is controlling Tik Tok's algorithms

A new study published by the Network Contagion Research Institute and Rutgers University purports to show what many have long suspected: that wildly popular social media app Tik Tok is artificially amplifying content at the request of the Chinese Communist Party. The study found "a strong possibility that TikTok systematically promotes or demotes content on the basis of whether it is aligned with or opposed to the interests of the Chinese Government."

Tik Tok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, which has been widely and credibly suspected of working hand-in-glove with the Communist Chinese dictatorship. ByteDance has somewhat implausibly denied connections with the Chinese government and has furthermore denied numerous claims — including some raised by its former executives — that ByteDance shares data on Americans' Tik Tok usage (and other cell phone data) with the Chinese government. Concerns about ByteDance's relationship with the CCP have led both Democrats and Republicans in the United States, as well as numerous other governments around the world, to push for legal controls on the controversial app.

In addition to data security concerns, many internet watchdog orgs have suggested that Tik Tok appears to be artificially boosting content that aligns with the CCP's geopolitical goals, including destabilizing the United States and its Western allies. The authors of the new study believe that they have found convincing evidence that this is happening.

The authors analyzed hashtag data on six topics known to be sensitive to the Chinese dictatorship: 1) Uyghurs; 2) Tiananmen Square; 3) Tibet; 4) Hong Kong; 5) Taiwan; 6) South China Sea. The authors compared whether content related to those hashtags was boosted or muted on Tik Tok, compared with how similar hashtags achieved visibility on Instagram, which has a similarly-sized user base. The study's authors also compared hashtag behavior on topics that are not sensitive to the CCP, to ensure that behavior with respect to those hashtags was not also different, which would suggest perhaps that differences in user demographics might account for differences in how hashtags were received.

According to the study's authors, "While ratios for non-sensitive topics (e.g., general political and pop-culture) generally followed user ratios (~2:1), ratios for topics sensitive to the Chinese Government were much higher (>10:1)." After controlling for other variables, the study's authors concluded that the Chinese government is actively suppressing Tik Tok content related to these six topics, as well as pro-Ukraine content, and pro-Israel content.

The study also found that certain topics of interest to the Chinese dictatorship were almost certainly artificially boosted by Tik Tok, such as content promoting Kashmiri independence, noting that "The significance of the overrepresentation of #standwithkashmir specifically, with over 225 million posts, should not be understated. To contextualize the magnitude of this activity, consider that the total sum of #standwithkashmir posts outweighs the sum of all other political hashtags in our sample put together (23,176,698) by an order of magnitude. The BLM hashtag, one of the most widely used hashtags in politics, reached its peak on Twitter at merely ~50 million posts 31 by comparison. It is challenging to imagine that activity of such magnitude could occur on a platform organically, and without the knowledge and consent of the platform itself."

As the study notes, its findings are concerning given that a recent Pew study indicated that a third of adults in the U.S. under the age of 30 regularly get news from Tik Tok, which suggests that the next generation will have had a significant portion of their news content spoon fed to them by a communist dictatorship.

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