TikTok restricts its data tool after accusations of geopolitical bias

Following criticism of content related to the war in Gaza, Tic Tac restricted a tool that assesses the popularity of trends on the app, THE New York Times reports.

Called the Creative Center, the platform helps advertisers see the most popular hashtags on the site, even though anyone can view them. Critics of the tool — namely researchers and lawmakers, according to the New York Times — said TikTok did not sufficiently moderate the app’s content. Now, the Creative Center’s search function and links to hashtags within the platform relating to the Gaza war and other political events have reportedly stopped working.

TikTok’s Creative Hub now shares data on the top 100 hashtags across different industries and topics, outside of topics related to the ongoing conflict and US politics.

A TikTok spokesperson told Mashable in a statement that some people were using the Creative Center tool to “draw inaccurate conclusions.”

“This resource is designed to provide brands with the hottest content to help them better understand trends. Unfortunately, some people and organizations have abused the Center’s search function to draw inaccurate conclusions. So we are changing some features to ensure it is used for its intended purpose,” the spokesperson said.

Recently, TikTok was accused of a pro-Palestinian bias and an anti-Israeli bias by Jewish business figures, influencers and organizations, including Jewish influencers and the Anti-Defamation League. A group of for most Republican members of Congress said pro-Palestinian content was being promoted to people through the app. Celebrities including Sacha Baron Cohen and Amy Schumer also criticized TikTok, with Cohen saying the app was “creating the biggest anti-Semitic movement since the Nazis.”

The Chinese app has also been accused of being influenced by Beijing; The Networked Contagion Research Institute at Rutgers University said in a report that suppressed geopolitical topics within Beijing were underrepresented on TikTok compared to Instagram. In response, TikTok said that the report used “a flawed methodology to reach a false and predetermined conclusion.”

In November, TikTok released a statement responding to accusations related to the war between Israel and Hamas, saying the hashtags are created by content creators and not TikTok, with millions of users residing in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. “As a result, there is more content with #freepalestine and #standwithpalestine and more overall views,” TikTok said. “It’s easy to cherry-pick hashtags to support a false narrative on the platform.” The statement references the hashtags #standwithisrael and #freepalestine, saying that while the latter may be associated with more videos, the former has 68% more video views.

“TikTok does not ‘promote’ one side of an issue over another,” the statement said. The app also said it removed 100% of reported anti-Semitic content in the last year.

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