TikTok, a China-owned social media company has consistently faced criticism for disseminating the state’s propaganda. The latest report accuses the platform of deceiving millions of Europeans through Chinese state propaganda outlets, focusing on subjects such as COVID-19 and tourism in the troubled Xinjiang region.
These promotions cover a wide range of topics, from defending Chinese COVID-19 lockdowns to featuring adorable cats playing on the Great Wall of China.
Furthermore, the ads also attempt to reshape the image of China’s Xinjiang region, despite its well-documented history of persecuting and detaining over one million people, mostly, Muslim Uyghurs, according to the report.
An analysis of the ad library conducted by Forbes indicates “that as of Wednesday, July 26, more than 1,000 ads from Chinese state media outlets like People’s Daily and CGTN have run on the platform since October 2022.”
“They have been served to millions of users across Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom,” the report read.
The report indicates that the ad library does not yet display data on ads presented to users in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries outside of Europe.
ByteDance’s ubiquitous video-sharing platform has faced numerous criticisms and restrictions before for its ties to the Chinese Communist Party, which allow the government to maintain ‘supreme access‘ and obtain user data.
Australia’s teens at risk?
The trendsetting short video-sharing platform has become one of the most controversial apps, and yet another issue has been raised in Australia, with the country lagging in protecting teens from ‘dark rabbit holes’ on TikTok.
Mental health experts are raising concerns about the increasing numbers of adolescents adopting dangerous self-harming trends on popular social media apps.
According to Associate Professor Michael Gordon, a child psychiatrist at Monash Health, TikTok has emerged as the most concerning app, with its usage among teenagers skyrocketing during the pandemic.
A concerning trend on TikTok involves people filming themselves getting injured, while others are using the platform to “show off” wounds resulting from self-harm, according to Gordon.
“There is this sense of being part of something. It creates a community,” said Gordon.
TikTok was criticized for allowing Australian user data to be accessible to employees based in China on a “very strict basis,” as stated by the company’s head of data security, Will Farrell, earlier in July.
Amid data and privacy threats, Gordon indicates it is becoming a dark hole for teens in Australia.
A dark hole
“It can actually be a very dark place … a rabbit hole, where you kind of gets sucked down into this echo chamber or these very negative thoughts,” said Gordon.
Daniel Lennon, CEO of Left and Right Counselling, which caters to nearly 500 young people aged 12 to 25 in Frankston and Mornington, reported an unprecedented surge in demand for support related to self-harming over the past three years.
Lennon attributed the increase to TikTok’s influence and expressed concerns about insufficient efforts by Australian authorities to safeguard young individuals.
“There are algorithms pushing self-harm content onto teenagers within minutes of them expressing interest in the topics,” said Lennon.
Lennon mentioned that an increasing number of young people are also experiencing a disorder known as trichotillomania, which involves pulling out their hair.
“We’ve had clients, young teenage girls, and they’re basically bald. It is just awful,” Lennon said.
“There is content out there on these apps which shows them how to do it. Social media has become a tool that’s used for emotion regulation.”