Following criticism regarding TikTok’s handling of content on the Israel-Hamas war and its alleged suppression of topics antithetical to the interests of the Chinese government, the popular social media app has restricted a tool researchers use to examine videos.
‘The Creative Center’, primarily geared towards helping advertisers and brands see the current trends, now restricts users from searching for specific hashtags.
Owned by Beijing’s ByteDance, TikTok also removed some hashtags that had been stored in the Creative Center for analysis. Hashtags such as ‘UghurGenocide’, ‘TianamenSquare’ and those relating to the war in Ukraine, Gaza, as well as U.S. politics have been restricted. Now, only searches for the top 100 hashtags according to industry will be allowed.
‘Unfortunately, some individuals and organizations have misused the Center’s search function to draw inaccurate conclusions, so we are changing some of the features to ensure it is used for its intended purpose,’ said Alex Haurek, TikTok spokesperson.
The changes first came to light in a study published by the Network Contagion Research Institute at Rutgers University in December.
In the study, researchers made comparisons on hashtags for specific geopolitical topics on TikTok and Instagram and concluded that there was a ‘strong possibility’ that content on TikTok was being underrepresented or amplified based on its alignment with the interests of the Chinese government.
Haurek disputed the findings of the report, stating that they used flawed methodology and didn’t consider that hashtags are not created by the company, but by the users. The Cato Institute, a libertarian thinktank in Washington, also criticized the study.
TikTok explained that blunt comparisons of hashtags is not an accurate way to examine activity on the app. However, the company has previously used hashtag comparisons to defend against accusations that its content appeared to be biased against Israel in their war in Gaza.
TikTok stated that academic researchers can study content through Research API, but researchers seeking data about information on the platform would need to submit an application and get approval first.
By Marvellous Iwendi
Source: AP News