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Promotion of extremism, racism and hatred 'widespread' on TikTok, report warns

Irish TikTok creators mocked George Nkencho and celebrated racist reactions to his death.

Image: Shutterstock/XanderSt

TIKTOK MUST TIGHTEN its content policies to prevent extremists from promoting terrorism and hate speech on the platform, a global think-tank that monitors extremism online has warned.

In a major global analysis of content posted on the social media site, the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found hundreds of videos promoting white supremacy and terrorism or extremism.

Irish TikTok creators mocked George Nkencho, celebrated racist reactions to his death and abused other users who called for justice on his behalf, according to ISD.

The 27-year-old was shot and killed by members of the Garda Armed Support Unit following an incident in Clonee in west Dublin last December.

A coroner’s inquest into the killing began in June.

It was adjourned until 14 December pending the conclusion of a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission investigation.

The Journal and Noteworthy have previously detailed how misinformation spread across social media platforms in the days following George Nkencho’s death, which became a rallying point for fringe groups and personalities on the Irish far-right.

In one video, which has since been removed from the site, an Irish TikTok user posted a clip of Sherrif Woody from the Toy Story film series dancing with the caption, “Me on my way to the principal’s office after saying George Nkencho deserved every bullet.”

Separately, another video shared by a self-described “Irish ultranationalist” depicting a spoof ad looking to hire “anti-semites” was viewed over 40,000 times before being removed. 

Both accounts have since been removed from the social media platform. 

While the report did not focus specifically focus primarily on Ireland, the Irish content referenced is best considered “in the wider context of racial hatred and white supremacy”, report author Ciarán O’Connor told The Journal.

Hate speech of this variety was “expressed in abundance” and was “easily discoverable during this analysis”, he added.

White supremacy

In a global sample of 1,030 TikTok videos ISD analysed, 30% of the content (312 videos) was identified as promoting white supremacy.

Some 246 videos (24% of the sample) included praise, promotion, glorification or positive discussion of figures like Adolf Hitler, British fascist leader Oswald Moseley or groups like ISIS.

The average number of views each video in the sample received was 13,300.

“However, this is skewed by a small cluster of videos with large view numbers, and 760 videos received less than this average figure,” the report highlights.

Topics covered in the sample include the ‘Great Replacement’, a baseless, racist conspiracy theory.

Proponents of the theory believe that white American and European populations are being systematically ‘replaced’ by non-whites through policies developed by global elites. 

This and other ‘white genocide’ narratives were cited as motivation for the terrorist who carried out the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attacks on 15 March 2019, in which 51 people were murdered.

In the sample of TikTok videos analysed by ISD, 30 videos feature support for the actions of the terrorist who carried out the attack.

Some 13 of them were directly produced by the shooter himself and three videos featured video game footage designed to recreate the events of the attack.

“These videos were used to signpost to other social platforms where additional terrorist material could be accessed,” according to the report.

Eight videos produced by ISIS were also discovered during the analysis — “one that shows ISIS militants firing rocket launchers and rifles and another that shows an ISIS-orchestrated suicide car bomb attack”, it highlights.

“The user even commented under one of their videos and said that ‘I have some pretty heavy ones [videos], with a lot of blood and deaths.’

“This account is still live, meaning these videos, along with potential future uploads featuring such ‘heavy’ content, would possibly face few obstacles in spreading ISIS propaganda on TikTok,” the report says.

Transparency and accountability

Videos clips of white supremacists racially abusing people on other social media platforms were shared on the site as well as TikTok Sounds clips featuring music from white power bands.

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“If we have one main takeaway, it’s that the promotion of hatred and support for extremism appears to be widespread on TikTok,” O’Connor said.

“Another takeaway is that the platform is being used exactly as TikTok designed it — video effects, music, hashtags are being used to tag, promote and group together content — but in this case, this activity is being used to promote hatred and extremism.”

However, he said it’s very difficult to precisely assess how big the problem is because TikTok lacks an effective API (Application Programming Interface).

This is a piece of software that would allow the company to easily share information with third parties.

It would “allow researchers to examine this problem at scale and help TikTok tackle this in the process,” O’Connor said.

But without it, “there’s no way of scaling up this research or stating how systemic this problem is.”

Overall, O’Connor said the Chinese-owned social media company — which plans to open its European ‘Transparency and Accountability Centre’ in Ireland — are quite robust.

“TikTok has shown signs that they’ve grown up and learned the lessons that other platforms faced in tackling this problem… But this research shows they still have a way to go,” he added.

“There is an enforcement gap in TikTok’s approach to hate and extremism on its platform. Yes, hateful and extremist content is removed on TikTok – and to their credit, they regularly release Transparency Reports detailing content takedowns.

“But this removal process appears to be carried out inconsistently and that is the issue — we can all agree that footage from Christchurch terrorist attack should not be on any platform.”

In response to the report a spokesperson from TikTok said:

“TikTok categorically prohibits violent extremism and hateful behaviour, and our dedicated team will remove any such content as it violates our policies and undermines the creative and joyful experience people expect on our platform.

“We greatly value our collaboration with ISD and others whose critical research on industry-wide challenges helps strengthen how we enforce our policies to keep our platform safe and welcoming.”

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