TikTok is banned content ‘dark advertising’ in Russia

In the weeks next Russia Invades UkraineKremlin criminalization whatever it considered “misinformation” about state entities or the war in Ukraine. In response, on March 6, TikTok prohibit Live streaming and new content on the app for users in Russia. But one new report revealed that some accounts based in Russia continue to upload videos to the platform, which in turn distributes them to Russian users. Call it “shadow advertising”.

That’s the term used by Salvatore Romano, head of research for the Mozilla-funded digital rights nonprofit, Tracking Exposed, which released the report today. Unlike hidden bans, in which creators post content that the platform’s algorithms or content censors prevent, TikTok’s hidden ads keep videos from creators’ accounts, but promote them to Pages for You (FYP) of other users. “This is something we’ve never seen before,” said Romano. In some cases, certain verified accounts have evaded the ban altogether, with new content appearing both in their accounts and in other users’ feeds.

The researchers conducted their study from May to July 2022, using a VPN to access TikTok from Russian IP addresses to understand how the platform feels to users in Russia. If a user follows an international account — the researchers used the BBC as an example — they won’t be able to watch any videos on the account’s page, but the old content, posted before the ban, will still be. show up on their FYP. However, if a user follows Russian organizations like the state-owned Sputnik News, they will receive new content on their FYP from that account, even if the page itself remains blank.

“TikTok would say, ‘We removed this account number, we blocked this number of videos,’ etc,” Romano said. “But if we didn’t have an independent way to evaluate not only the content but also the promotion of it on the platform algorithmically, we would never have been able to gauge whether content censorship was effective. actually done or not,” said Romano.

He suspects that TikTok may have started allowing these select accounts to create new content to keep Russian users engaged, many of whom would likely stop using the platform without new videos filling up. their data feed.

“In order not to completely lose the market, they are probably trying to restore some features and some content that is not explicitly against Russian law on fake news,” he said. Many verified accounts that appear to have evaded the ban are purely entertainment-focused, including Yandex Music, Beautybomb.rus, and Kinopoisk, a movie database.

Unlike Google, fined $370 million in July for not removing content from YouTube that the government deemed “false,” Romano said.

“Most other international platforms that keep their policies constant around the world, like Facebook and YouTube, still don’t remove anti-Putin content,” Salvatore said.

Marc Faddoul, CEO of Tracking Exposed, said TikTok’s country-by-country approach could have serious implications in the future.

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