TikTok, the social video app President Trump has turned into a geopolitical football, isn’t shying away from the American political playing field.
Chinese-owned TikTok launched an in-app guide to the 2020 U.S. elections “to provide access to authoritative information as we continue our work to protect against misinformation,” Michael Beckerman, VP, head of U.S. public policy, wrote in a blog post.
TikTok will include a link to the guide at the bottom of videos related to the U.S. elections, as well as on posts from verified political accounts. The elections hub also will be on the app’s Discover page and will show up in search results. “We expect everyone — verified or not — to follow our Community Guidelines which apply to everyone who uses TikTok and all the content they post,” Beckerman said.
Neither of the campaigns for the two U.S. presidential contenders, Trump and Joe Biden, has a presence on the app. Biden’s campaign earlier this year told staffers to delete TikTok from their phones over security concerns.
Still, politics is an active topic on the app: TikTok videos tagged “#trump2020” have over 11 billion views, while those with “#biden2020” have 2.4 billion views. This summer, TikTok made headlines after claims by users that they helped suppress turnout at Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Okla., by reserving thousands of tickets. The Trump campaign claimed the bogus ticket requests had no effect on crowd forecasts or attendance.
TikTok’s launch of the elections guide for U.S. users, which the company claims numbers over 100 million, comes as its fate hangs in the balance — after the Trump administration, citing national security concerns, ordered the app’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, to sell off U.S. operations to American buyers. ByteDance reached an initial deal with parties include Oracle and Walmart, but the pact still needs official approval from both the U.S. and China governments.
On Sunday, TikTok won a reprieve from Trump’s order that would have banned the app from Apple’s App Store and Google Play in the U.S. A Trump-appointed federal judge ruled that the administration likely exceeded its legal authority in imposing the app-download ban, which has been halted for now.
The TikTok elections guide will provide elections information resources about the elections from several partners, including the National Association of Secretaries of State, BallotReady, Communication Service for the Deaf’s SignVote, Campus Vote Project Campaign Legal Center’s Restore Your Vote and Poynter Institute’s MediaWise project, which will supply “educational videos” about misinformation, media literacy and the elections process.
As Beckerman acknowledged, “TikTok isn’t the go-to app for breaking news or politics.” That said, he added, “we know TikTok is a home where Americans express themselves — and with that in mind, we’re focused on supporting our users with education and authoritative information on important public issues. Our goal is to keep TikTok a place where authentic content can thrive, and our elections guide reflects our ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of our platform and the U.S. elections.”
TikTok doesn’t accept paid political ads — like Twitter, but unlike Facebook. Also, according to TikTok, interactions with the app’s guide have no bearing on user recommendations or what ads they see.
TikTok’s 2020 U.S. elections guide is available in English, Spanish and dozens of additional languages. Beckerman noted that, as a privacy measure, users must visit off-app websites for individual state or non-profit partners “for anything that involves sharing their information, including registering to vote.”