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TikTok Moves to Limit Russian and Chinese Media’s Reach in Big Election Year

TikTok said on Thursday that it was introducing new measures to limit the spread of videos from state-affiliated media accounts, including Russian and Chinese outlets, as the company deflects criticism that it could be used as a propaganda tool in a major election year.

The company in 2022 started labeling state-affiliated media accounts — like those from RT, the global Russian television network, and People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. It said it would no longer allow videos from such accounts into users’ main feeds if they “attempt to reach communities outside their home country on current global events and affairs.”

TikTok also said the accounts would not be permitted to advertise on TikTok outside their home countries, to further reduce their reach.

Social media platforms, including Meta, YouTube and X, are grappling with misinformation in a year when as much as half the global population will vote in major elections. Political news on TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, is under particular scrutiny after the passage of a law that would force ByteDance to sell the company or face a ban in the United States. Lawmakers and intelligence officials have said TikTok is a threat to national security, partly because of how the Chinese government could use it to spread propaganda.

TikTok, which is suing the federal government over the law, has vehemently pushed back on such concerns.

But fears about the presidential election in the United States helped build support for the new law. Officials like Lisa Monaco, the U.S. deputy attorney general, met with individual lawmakers before the bill was introduced, saying TikTok could be used to disrupt U.S. elections.

TikTok on Thursday also released a new report focused on the company’s efforts to stamp out covert influence operations, which are a problem across platforms as foreign governments and others pose as local news outlets or personalities to shape public opinion. TikTok said it disrupted 15 influence operations in the first four months of this year, most of which were trying to sway political discourse, including around elections. Targeted countries included Germany and Indonesia, and TikTok said it had removed thousands of accounts as part of the effort.

A study this month from the Brookings Institution found that Russian state-affiliated accounts had started posting on TikTok more frequently this year, though they are much more active on X and Telegram. Only about 5 percent of the TikTok content posted by the accounts was tied to U.S. political topics, but the TikTok posts received more engagement, based on views, likes, shares and comments, than posts on X or Telegram, the study found.

A study this month from the Brookings Institution found that Russian state-affiliated accounts had started posting on TikTok more frequently this year, though they are much more active on X and Telegram. Only about 5 percent of the TikTok content posted by the accounts was tied to U.S. political topics, but the TikTok posts received more engagement, based on views, likes, shares and comments, than posts on X or Telegram, the study found.

It is likely that “Russian state-backed accounts will continue to shift more resources and bandwidth toward reaching audiences on the platform, which remains one of the fastest growing in the United States,” Valerie Wirtschafter, a Brookings fellow, wrote in a report. “A sale of TikTok to a U.S.-based company will likely not change this calculus.”

The Russian TikTok accounts have highlighted Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with President Vladimir V. Putin, including a clip of Mr. Carlson admiring the beauty of Moscow, and emphasized verbal gaffes from President Biden, according to the study.

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