Tiktok is still promoting banned Russian content to users, report says

TikTok is making headlines again for issues with its algorithm.

Tracking Exposed, a non-profit European research group, found that the Chinese-owned app “promotes promotion” of Russian-made content, despite its own digital policies.

Since March, Russian users have been banned from uploading new content to TikTok following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian citizens are also blocked from viewing domestic or intentional TikTok videos, after the policy was updated on June 30.

But Exposed follow-up says a flaw in the Chinese-owned app continues to promote Russian content to Russian and European users.

Researchers found that new videos from Russian accounts – including state media – were visible on TikTok’s “For You” page, where the platform’s algorithm recommends new content to users.

The Russian content appeared in “For You” even though it was not visible on the blank Russian profiles that posted them, according to the report.

Tracking Exposed also found that some state-controlled verified accounts are still evading the ban and sharing new content with Russian-based users.

“We found six or seven [of these accounts]but there are probably more,” said Salvatore Romano, research manager at Tracking Exposed.

“They are completely above these restrictions and we don’t understand why.”

Romano told Euronews that TikTok could try to keep its platform attractive to Russian users by allowing domestic content to remain online.

“We know that Russian public opinion is relative in its decision to support the war in Ukraine or not, and we know that there is strong censorship in Russia,” he said.

Since March 6, independent platforms have been blocked by Russia if they disseminate “false information” about the country’s army or the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The nonprofit previously accused TikTok of being opaque and inconsistent when enforcing its content moderation policies regarding the war in Ukraine.

A March report found that TikTok failed to enforce its Russian content ban for three weeks, exposing users in the country to videos and images that were overwhelmingly pro-war and pro-Kremlin.

“We don’t have enough instruments provided by this platform to understand what the consequences are and to verify that their statements are incorrect,” Romano told Euronews.

“Social media [platforms] play an important role in democracy, in the sharing of information, in informing citizens and voters. So our mission is kind of to hold them as accountable as possible.”

“I think it’s time now [for TikTok] to give answers to Russian users and be more transparent in their behavior.”

Euronews has contacted TikTok for a statement in response to the Tracking Exposed report.

The European Union recently passed the Digital Services Act which requires social media platforms to be more transparent about how content is processed and distributed.