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TikTok has reported that it successfully thwarted over a dozen influence campaigns in the current year

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TikTok has disclosed that it intervened in over a dozen clandestine influence campaigns on its platform since January, including one originating from China.

In a recent blog post, the company announced its intention to publicly report on influence campaigns, where networks of accounts engage in coordinated efforts to influence political discourse. TikTok aims to enhance transparency regarding its efforts to counter influence attempts by sharing details of detected and removed campaigns.

The inaugural report outlines 15 influence operations spanning 3,000 accounts with millions of collective followers. For instance, in February, TikTok dismantled a network of 16 accounts operated from China targeting US users. This network utilized inauthentic accounts to amplify positive narratives about China, including support for government policies and the promotion of Chinese culture, amassing approximately 110,000 followers.

In March, TikTok eradicated a network of 52 accounts operated from Ukraine with a combined 2.6 million followers. These accounts targeted Ukrainians, disseminating pro-Ukraine clickbait content to manipulate discourse surrounding the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The report also outlines influence campaigns in Indonesia, Venezuela, Germany, and Iran, among others, aimed at manipulating political narratives. Additionally, TikTok plans to disclose previously removed campaigns attempting to rejoin the platform.

TikTok further announced measures to limit the reach of state-affiliated media accounts addressing international audiences on topics such as global events and affairs. These accounts will be barred from appearing in the For You feed, a powerful recommendations page driving reach and engagement on TikTok, and prohibited from advertising outside their country of origin.

This disclosure of influence campaigns on TikTok occurs amid the company facing potential exclusion from the US. The TikTok “ban” bill, which seeks to compel Chinese owner ByteDance to divest the video app, has emerged as a contentious issue in US-China relations. Advocates of the bill assert that TikTok could be leveraged to indoctrinate Americans, alleging Chinese government control over TikTok’s recommendation algorithm, although no evidence has been presented to substantiate these claims.

TikTok is not the sole platform targeted by government efforts to shape political opinion. Companies like Meta periodically report shutting down influence operations, while Google issues quarterly reports on detected influence operations. In 2018, Facebook disclosed identifying and shutting down “coordinated authentic behavior” that could influence midterm elections, with Russian organizations previously exploiting Facebook to disseminate misinformation during the 2016 elections. Influence campaigns are not exclusive to foreign interests; in 2022, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp discovered and removed a campaign promoting US interests to international audiences while denigrating US adversaries like Russia, China, and Iran.