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TikTok wants your trust around US midterm elections data

Misinformation's a concern, but Chinese media giant's own data privacy practices also have people worried

TikTok has joined Twitter in publishing new US midterm misinformation rules, with considerable crossover in scope and style.

Eric Han, TikTok's head of US safety, shared in a blog post that the social video platform is taking a variety of steps to provide access to authoritative information and counter election misinformation.

Like the midterm plans Twitter shared last week, a good portion of TikTok's strategy revolves around flagging content, fact checking and depromoting identified falsehoods.

"We take our responsibility to protect the integrity of our platform - particularly around elections – with the utmost seriousness," Han said. 

The most noticeable new feature for TikTok users will be the Elections Center, which will be promoted to people who engage with election-related content. The Election Center will be available in more than 45 languages, Han said, and will include links to voting registration information, local ballot information, election results, and information to make it easier for deaf Americans, US citizens living overseas, students, and those with a criminal record to vote. 

The Election Center will also include links to videos on how to think critically about content viewed online, and Han said that any action that requires a user to share information will direct them outside of the app, where he said TikTok won't have access to the data or activity. 

Filtering false and flagged content

Like Twitter, TikTok has become a hotbed of misinformation. As reported by the New York Times, TikTok has been used around the world to spread false narratives during elections, and the same strategies have begun appearing ahead of coming US midterms, the Times said.

Also like Twitter, TikTok said it will be labeling content identified as related to the 2022 US midterm elections and the accounts of governments, politicians, and political parties. Over concerns with its ban on political advertising, TikTok said it would be working to make it clear when influencers are paid to create political content, which is also against TikTok's terms. 

Along with flagging violations of its political advertising restrictions, TikTok said it is actively engaging with independent intelligence firms and fact-checking organizations to help it assess the accuracy of content posted to the site. 

Han said that fact-checkers don't moderate content on TikTok, but "their assessments provide valuable input which helps us take the appropriate action in line with our policies." 

To identify false content, TikTok said it will be reviewing all reported content and accounts. "While content is being fact checked or when content can't be substantiated through fact-checking, it becomes ineligible for recommendation," Han said. Like Twitter, TikTok will also inform viewers when they try to share content that has been flagged as unsubstantiated, but will still allow the content to be shared.

Can TikTok be trusted?

There's been widespread suspicion around the privacy of TikTok user data, and the influence of the government in China, where the app is developed, to use it as an intelligence tool. 

A report last year from Citizen Lab showed that the global version of TikTok, unlike the domestic Chinese version or the southeast Asian variant of the app, was no worse than Facebook when it came to privacy risks, though that doesn't give it a clean bill.

TikTok's US branch responded to pressure in June around its overseas storage of US user data by shifting it all to US-based Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, though a month later the company admitted some employees based in China with sufficient security clearance could still access data from US users

Earlier this year, TikTok also lost multiple class-action lawsuits in the US due to harvesting too much user data. The suit alleged the social media app failed to notify users it was collecting biometric data, who had access to it, or where it was shared. 

Election integrity initiatives or not, caveat usor. ®

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