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Tiktok censors Western content for users in Russia

Initially, Tiktok was one of the few platforms that still used to get information from the West to Russia. But in the meantime the company has blocked foreign accounts in Russia without ever communicating it.

Those who use Tiktok in Russia now almost only see content distributed by the Russian state.

Thomas Trutschel / Imago

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and its aftermath changed the social media landscape in Russia. After the Russian government blocked Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the video platform Tiktok was one of the last popular foreign social media platforms that allowed exchanges between users in the West and in Russia. At least that was what was assumed.

However, a study by the research collective Tracking Exposed has shown that Tiktok has changed a lot in Russia since the war: An estimated 95 percent of the content is no longer visible, including the most important Western influencers and the accounts of foreign companies, ironically also those of Tiktok himself writes Tracking Exposed in his report. The investigation is funded by the Mozilla Foundation funded been.

Tiktok never communicated these blocks

Tiktok itself has never publicly announced that it blocks foreign content for Russian users. The company had only announced that Russian users were no longer allowed to upload videos to the platform themselves – so that they would not put themselves in danger. After all, people who talk about war in Russia face imprisonment. Upon request1 Tiktok also justifies the blanket blocking of foreign content with this “fake news law”. Above all, you want it too Do not endanger employees on site.

According to Tracking Exposed, there is a loophole that allows Russian accounts to continue uploading videos. This is used, for example, by influencers who spread war propaganda. Official state websites were also still distributing content.

Tiktok has effectively become a propaganda channel for the Kremlin. Because if ordinary Russian users can no longer publish anything and European and American channels are no longer visible, there will be little content left for Tiktok users in Russia apart from state propaganda.

Tiktok was the 12th most used app in Russia on March 15 playstore. Russia is an important market for the company. In January 2022 used 54.9 million Russians the app. Tiktok has more users only in the USA, Brazil and Indonesia. In China, the Chinese parent company Bytedance operates with the twin platform Douyin. It works the same as Tiktok, but is self-contained.

Anti-war content was deleted on Douyin in the days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as on Weibo and WeChat, the other major Chinese social media platforms. But also articles applauding the war, are partially deleted reflecting China’s intermediate position in the war.

Tiktok wants to please everyone: Russia, China and Europe

The authors of Tracking Exposed suspect that the Chinese government pressured Bytedance to take censorship measures in Russia as well. The bans may have been a compromise allowing the company to remain active in Russia. Instead of checking which content would violate the censorship requirements of the Russian government, Tiktok obediently rushed ahead and simply blocked all content from western countries.

Tiktok had been a vehicle for both sides to spread their views before and during the war. Videos of influencers whose lives had been thrown into chaos by the Russian attack from one day to the next could also be seen posts by Russian influencers, who, apparently following a script, spread the tale of a genocide against Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Tiktok seems to want to please everyone in this war: In the West, it blocks Russia Today and Sputnik and labels Russian state accounts as pro-government. In Russia, it supports the wishes of the government there. Tracking Exposed suspects that this hybrid existence will soon come to an end: “We can imagine that Bytedance will publish a Russian version of Tiktok in the future, as is the case with Douyin in China.”

For Russian users, a relatively unhindered exchange with other countries is still possible via the YouTube and Telegram platforms. On Friday, however, it was announced that the government could soon block the YouTube video platform in Russia.

1 The answer to the request reached the editors on Friday evening and was added later on Monday, March 21, 2022.

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