TikTok restricts data tool after accusations of geopolitical bias


Following criticism around content related to the war in Gaza, TikTok has restricted a tool that assesses 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, though it’s available to anyone to look at. Critics of the tool — namely researchers and lawmakers, according to the NYT — said that TikTok wasn’t adequately moderating content on the app. Now, the Creative Center’s search function and links for hashtags within the platform relating to the war in Gaza and other political events have reportedly stopped working.

TikTok’s Creative Center now shares data on the top 100 hashtags within different industries and topics, apart from subjects around the ongoing conflict and U.S. politics.

Alex Haurek, a spokesman for TikTok’s parent company Bytedance, told the NYT that some individuals used the Creative Center tool to “draw inaccurate conclusions.”

“Unfortunately, some individuals and organizations have misused the Center’s search function to draw inaccurate conclusions, so we are changing some of the features to ensure it is used for its intended purpose,” said Haurek.

Recently, TikTok has been accused of a pro-Palestinian bias and anti-Israel bias by business figures, influencers, and Jewish organizations, including Jewish influencers and the Anti-Defamation League. A group of mostly Republican Congress members said that pro-Palestine content was being promoted to people via the app. Celebrities including Sacha Baron Cohen and Amy Schumer also criticized TikTok, with Cohen saying that the app was “creating the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis”.

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

In November, TikTok released a statement addressing the accusations related to the Israel-Hamas war, saying that hashtags are made by content creators and not TikTok, with millions of users residing in the Middle East and South East Asia. “Therefore, there’s more content with #freepalestine and #standwithpalestine and more overall views,” said TikTok. “It is easy to cherry pick hashtags to support a false narrative about the platform.” The statement referred to the hashtags #standwithisrael and #freepalestine, saying that while the latter may have more videos associated with it, the former has 68 percent more views on videos.

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

Mashable has reached out to TikTok for comment.

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