Commentary

Embattled TikTok Embraces American Democracy

Although its days as a foreign-owned app appear numbered, TikTok is still trying to convince critics that it supports American interests.

Specifically, the app’s leaders say they are taking additional measures to curb content that could interfere in the upcoming U.S. Presidential election.

“We’re working with experts including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect against foreign influence on our platform,” Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s U.S. general manager, stated Wednesday.

Additionally, Pappas is promising to expand TikTok’s fact-checking partnerships to help verify election-related misinformation, while adding an in-app reporting option for election misinformation.

Pappas also said she and her team are updating TikTok’s policies on misleading content to provide better clarity on what is and isn’t allowed on the platform.

The app’s Community Guidelines already prohibit misinformation that could cause harm to its community or the larger public, including content that misleads people about elections or other civic processes, content distributed by disinformation campaigns, and health misinformation.

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In addition, Pappas plans to add a policy that prohibits synthetic or manipulated content, which misleads users by distorting the truth of events in a way that could cause harm. This change encompasses so-called “deep fakes.”

“This kind of content was broadly covered by our guidelines already, [and] this update makes the policy clearer for our users,” Pappas said.

Any changes enacted by TikTok seem unlikely to convince President Trump and other officials that the app can continue to operate in the U.S. under the ownership of its Beijing-based parent ByteDance.

Along with interfering in U.S. elections, U.S. officials suspect TikTok of gathering user data on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Considering the resistance TikTok is facing in the U.S. and other key markets, ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming said this week that he is open to a sale of the unit.

Together with Microsoft, the Chinese tech titan has already notified the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment about a possible sale.

After consulting with President Trump, Microsoft publicly announced plans to pursue an acquisition of TikTok this weekend. On Monday, Trump said he supported the deal.
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