Mozilla study says TikTok lacks policing of paid political influencer content

Recent research findings have revealed that Tiktok influencers in the US are receiving compensation for disseminating political messages despite Tiktok’s move to ban political ads on its platform in 2019. According to research done by the organisation that built Firefox, Mozilla, Tiktok does not actively monitor and enforce its rule that influencers disclose paid partnerships, nor does the platform label sponsored posts as advertising.

Its findings suggest that the undetected political advertising that has been identified on TikTok in the US could easily play out in other countries.

Its inconsistent disclosure practices coupled with the lack of ad transparency tools or archives raises difficulties in monitoring political influencer ads on TikTok. Mozilla found that TikTok influencers across the political landscape in the US had undisclosed paid relationships with various political organisations in the US. This means that political advertising on the platform is going unregulated and unmonitored.

In its report, Mozilla listed three recommendations for the social media platform. It asked Tiktok to develop effective self-disclosure mechanisms for creators; invest in implementing advertising transparency on the platform; and update its policies and enforcement processes on political advertisements. 

However, TikTok currently does require creators to use #ad to disclose paid partnerships or sponsored content. Meanwhile, Tiktok created a new branded content policy that includes mention of a “branded content toggle” to help influencers disclose paid partnerships.

In a section directed to lawmakers, Mozilla's report also listed requests directed at law enforcement bodies to ramp-up of disclosure obligations for online advertising, produce regulations accounting for novel forms of politcal advertising, develop clear definition of political advertising, and develop laws and guidelines requiring platforms to enhance user-facing transparency. 

TikTok's transparency report, released on 24 Febuary 2021, revealed that in the second half of 2020, it rejected 3,501,477 ads for violating advertising policies and guidelines.

According to a separate report, by influencer marketing platform, Linqia, it was revealed that only 16% of marketers planned to use the platform for influencer marketing in 2020, but now 68% say they want to use it in their influencer marketing efforts, which is a 300% increase. The State of Influencer Marketing 2021 also revealed that  71% of enterprise marketers who have established their budgets for influencer marketing will increase their spend in 2021.

Aside from this, looking into Tiktok from a local viewpoint, it has recently appointed Singaporean ByteDance CFO Shouzi Chew as CEO in May this year. Chew will be based in Singapore while remaining as ByteDance’s CFO. According to his LinkedIn Chew was previously CFO and partner, director, president of International at Xiaomi Technology for over five years.  According to the company then, the move was a “strategic reorganisation to optimise TikTok's global teams” and support the company's “unprecedented growth".  

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