China wanted a secret TikTok account to spread propaganda in the West, report says

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Chinese government tried to open a TikTok account that they could use to target Western users with propaganda without their knowledge, a new report alleges.

TikTok’s head of government relations received a message from a colleague stating that a “Chinese government entity that … would not want to be openly seen as a government account as the main purpose is for promoting content that showcase the best side of China (some sort of propaganda)” wanted to join the platform.

The proposal was discussed internally but was resisted, with the company describing the request as “sensitive”, according to Bloomberg.

The move, which was met with resistance from TikTok employees, was used to spark a discussion about other sensitive requests.

“We declined to offer support for this request, as we believed the creation of such an account would violate our Community Guidelines,” said a TikTok spokeswoman to The Independent.

Bloomberg reports the question was characterised as an informal request from a friend of an employee.

The social media platform has rules against accounts that seek to conceal their identity, as well as rules against political advertising.

This news comes as a separate report details that TikTok seeks to “downplay the parent company ByteDance, downplay the China association, downplay AI”, according to leaked messages from inside the company.

It reveals prepared quotes for questions about past moderation decisions, including leaked guidelines from 2019 that suggested content around the Tiananmen Square revolution would be deprioritised.

“In the early days we formulated our rules more restrictively in order to minimize conflicts,” PR representatives are recommended to say in the Master Messaging document.

“As TikTok grew rapidly internationally last year, we realized that this was not the right approach. That’s why we gave our local teams a more prominent role in this process, as they have a more differentiated understanding of their respective markets. […] While we built our local teams over the past year, we have also abandoned various regulations that were not appropriate for individual markets.”

TikTok did not provide comment to The Independent regarding this report before time of publication.

The relationship between TikTok, its Chinese parent company, and the Chinese government has often been a contentious issue.

Liz Truss, who is up against Rishi Sunak in a bid to be the UK’s next Prime Minister, has said she would crack down on Chinese-owned tech companies like TikTok.

"We absolutely should be cracking down on those types of companies," she said, “and we should be limiting the amount of technology exports we do to authoritarian regimes.”