Study Yields More Evidence Chinese Government Controls TikTok Algorithms

A study published by the Network Contagion Research Institute and Rutgers University Thursday found more evidence that TikTok promotes and hides content to align with the interests of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“We assess a strong possibility that content on TikTok is either amplified or suppressed based on its alignment with the interests of the Chinese Government,” the report states. There is “a strong possibility that TikTok systematically promotes or demotes content on the basis of whether it is aligned with or opposed to the interests of the Chinese Government.”

A group of psychologists, engineers, and analysts at Rutgers University form the independent research organization that conducted the study. They collected and analyzed data for the volume of TikTok posts with politically sensitive hashtags. The group then compared the results to Instagram, a rival social media platform.

“While ratios for non-sensitive topics (e.g., general political and pop-culture) generally followed user ratios (~2:1), ratios for topics sensitive to the Chinese Government were much higher (>10:1),” the study found.

The group concluded, as a result of the study, that they believe TikTok is most likely manipulating public opinion on controversial topics. That includes not only sensitive subjects for the CCP, like the 1989 Tiananmen protests, but also topics of global strategic importance to China, such as the current wars in Ukraine and Israel.

A spokesperson for TikTok told NBC News the study was flawed. “It fails to take into account the basic fact that hashtags are created by users, not by TikTok,” the company said. “Most importantly, anyone familiar with how the platform works can see for themselves the content they refer to is widely available and claims of suppression are baseless.”

“That this fact was ignored not only speaks to the shortcomings in this report, but is also deeply ironic coming from an organization purportedly dedicated to combating hate speech online,” the spokesperson said.

In a sworn statement filed in court earlier this year, a former employee of ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, alleged that the CCP accesses the data of TikTok users on a broad basis and for political purposes. A Human Rights Watch report in March alleged that the Chinese government exercises authoritarian-like control over TikTok executives.