BUSINESS TikTok's election guide misrepresented


TikTok's election guide misrepresented

By GT staff reporters | Global Times

18:03, September 30, 2020

TikTok (Photo: VCG)

TikTok's launch of an in-app guide to the 2020 US election is to provide access to information for voters - a meaningful and valuable move for American users - but not for other purposes, experts noted, refuting reports that maliciously interpreted TikTok's actions.

The company launched the election guide with organizations amid the Trump administration's attempt to ban the private company over a so-called national security threat.

Together with BallotReady and SignVote, the app provides information and access to those with disabilities, who live overseas, or those with past convictions to participate in the vote, despite the tech company's uncertainty over its future in the US.

While many faithfully reported the announcement, some still questioned TikTok's purpose, and linked it to data security, which the company repeatedly denied. Even after TikTok reiterated that using the guide has no connection to future TikTok actions, such as recommendations or ads, some still accused the company of misleading users, and storing data for other uses.

TechCrunch's Sarah Perez in her report focused on how those using election data on TikTok could be a cause for concern.

Foreseeing the possible misconception over the guide, TikTok said the company is not the go-to app for breaking news or politics, and does not accept paid political ads.

"Our elections guide is built with user privacy in mind. So a user must visit the website for a state or a non-profit for anything that involves sharing their information, including registering to vote," the company's statement said.

As one of the world's most popular video-sharing applications, with over 100 million users in the US and 700 million worldwide, the guide is considered a unique approach to help increase public participation in the election.

"We know TikTok is used by Americans to express themselves. With that in mind, we're focused on supporting our users with education and information on important public issues," the report said.

TikTok is unlikely to have a motive to influence the election or put the data for other uses, not to mention being in the spotlight, experts said.

"On the contrary, I think it does so to prevent interference in the US election from happening on the platform," said Lu Chuanying, an associate research fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

Lu said that there should be no doubt about TikTok's motives on this matter, as other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are also doing something to help voters participate in the election.

Xiang Ligang, an independent telecom industry analyst, told the Global Times on Wednesday that such an application would be meaningful and valuable to American users, but one cannot prevent others from putting distorted meanings into it, especially as the company is under the spotlight.

A US judge on Sunday temporarily blocked a government ban on downloads of the popular video sharing app, giving its parent company ByteDance some breathing room as it works out a deal to save its US business.

TikTok officials and their US lawyers are expected to meet on or before Wednesday to confer and file a joint status report proposing a schedule for further proceedings.

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