Study Reveals TikTok Suppresses China-Critical Content

( – A new study comparing hashtags between Instagram and TikTok (the latter’s preferred metric) shows that the Chinese-owned social media app regularly suppresses content critical of China.

Former President Donald Trump floated a ban on the app during his administration in 2020. At the time he was suggesting the company sell to an American company or risk the loss of all its American users.

In the following years, several news items have shown that TikTok’s Chinese engineers can access all kinds of information about American users. This includes users’ direct messages, search histories, and what videos they watched, liked, or commented on. The company has even been accused of scraping content posted to other social media sites to TikTok so that the content would drive engagement on the platform.

A larger concern looms about China’s ability to engage in social engineering. In the wake of the October 7th Hamas attacks on Israel, observers noted a wave of praise for Osama Bin Laden, the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks. Critics accused the Chinese company of attempting to sow division and radical sentiments by promoting the video which went viral only to be taken down after reams of negative feedback began to pour in.

Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) did a study to compare trending hashtags between TikTok and its U.S.-based competitor, Instagram. They concluded, based on their findings, that the social media giant was manipulating public opinion on a variety of issues beyond China-specific concerns.

NCRI chose the comparison of the number of posts with specific hashtags since TikTok had previously used that as a means to defend itself from claims of bias. Researchers explained that given the number of users being much greater on Instagram, one would expect a concomitant number of posts on any topic.

Using pop culture-related posts as a neutral control, they found the expected amount of posts, but as soon as things wade into the political arena the number of expected posts drops significantly. Hong Kong protests, South China Sea issues, and discussion of the treatment of Muslim Uyghurs in Western China are just a few of the issues with a very small quantity of posts when compared to Instagram.

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