Popular social media platform TikTok is on the spot over the spread of political disinformation on the platform ahead of Kenya’s August 9th General Election.
Research conducted by Mozilla Fellow Odanga Madung reveals that TikTok has become a platform for fast and far-spreading political disinformation hence creating tension ahead of the polls. Even worse, the survey found that disinformation being spread on TikTok violates the platform’s very own policies.
The survey reviewed over 130 videos from 33 accounts which had been viewed collectively over 4 million times on Tik Tok.
“Our analysis reveals that hate speech, incitement against communities, and synthetic and manipulated content — despite being in violation of TikTok’s very own policies — is both present and spreading on the platform,” reads the report in part.
One of TikTok’s policies states: “TikTok is a diverse and inclusive community with no tolerance for discrimination. We do not permit content that contains hate speech or involves hateful behavior, and we remove it from our platform.”
However, many of the videos reviewed by Mozilla Fellow Odanga Madung were found to contain explicit threats of ethnic violence specifically targeting members of ethnic communities that are based within certain regions regions of the country.
In one instance, a video clip was widely shared on Tik Tok showing one of the presidential candidates in the August elections giving a speech at a rally with the caption claiming that he hates members of certain community and that he would take revenge once elected in 2022.
Alongside the mentions of the communities were graphic images obtained from previous post electoral skirmishes in Kenya.
TikTok also states in its policies that the platform “prohibits synthetic or manipulated content that misleads users by distorting the truth of events in a way that could cause harm.”
However, investigation by Mozilla Fellow Odanga Madung shows that this type of false content is thriving on TikTok, and in some cases, it is receiving higher engagement as compared to other platforms.
“One example we identified was a rip off of the Netflix documentary “How to Become a Tyrant.” It mashes up clips from the film along with Kenyan mainstream media news clips and is accompanied by slick narration. Whereas multiple versions of the videos distributed across other platforms received only hundreds of views, the TikTok versions we identified received over 8,000 views,” reads the report.
“This method has been highly effective at allowing misleading information to be distributed to Kenyans on the platform. We identified several manipulated pieces of content on the platform that were widely viewed.”
Asked why such content is allowed to thrive on the platform, one of former TikTok content moderators Gadear Ayed says: “Sometimes the people moderating the platform don’t know who the entities in the videos are and therefore the videos can be left to spread due to lack of knowledge of context.”
She says its common to find moderators being asked to moderate videos that were in languages and contexts that were different from what they understood.
“For example I at one time had to moderate videos that were in Hebrew despite me not knowing the language or the context. All I could rely on was the visual image of what I could see but anything written I couldn’t moderate,” says Ayed.
She further explained that the need for speed in the content moderation process likely gets in the way of moderators evaluating a video properly.
“When I worked at TikTok I was reviewing 1,000 videos a day. There was no time limit for the videos that we would moderate. Instead, what we had were targets of videos to moderate per day. So you wouldn’t want to watch a video too much because that will get in the way of you achieving your target. Sometimes we would watch a video at two- to three-times the speed to get around this problem,” she says.
The report concludes that “TikTok is failing its first real test in Africa” and that “rather than learn from the mistakes of more established platforms like Facebook and Twitter, TikTok is following in their footsteps, hosting and spreading political disinformation ahead of a delicate African election.”
Some of the controversial posts in question have since been removed from the platform after TikTok reviewed the Mozilla report.