The attempt, which was rejected by TikTok executives, highlights internal tensions within the burgeoning social media app owned by the Beijing-based company. ByteDance Incwho has constantly tried to distance himself from Chinese state influence.
In an April 2020 message addressed to Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok’s head of government relations for the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Israel, a colleague flagged a “Chinese government agency interested in joining TikTok but not openly seen as a government account … because the main goal is to promote content that shows the best side of China (a kind of propaganda).”
The reports indicate that some of ByteDance’s most senior government relations team, including Kanter and US-based Erich Andersen, global head of corporate affairs and general counsel, discussed the matter internally, but the request, which they described as “sensitive”. , recoil. TikTok used the incident to spark an internal discussion about other sensitive requests, the posts say.
“We declined to support this request, believing that creating such an account would violate our Community Guidelines,” said a TikTok spokeswoman, who downplayed the incident as an informal request from a friend of an employee.
TikTok has rules against “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” where accounts hide their true identities to exert influence or influence public opinion, and against political advertising, the spokeswoman said.
TikTok does allow some Chinese government agencies, including the Chinese embassy in the US, to have verified accounts. The company plans to expand its state-controlled media policy, which labels state accounts, to include other government agencies in the “coming months,” the spokeswoman added.
Kanter and Andersen declined to comment. The Chinese government did not respond to a request for comment.
The reports came the same week that the British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss pledged to crack down on Chinese companies, including TikTok, during a personal debate with Rishi Sunak as part of their campaign to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized Truss’s comments on Monday.
“I want to make it clear to certain British politicians that making irresponsible comments about China, including stirring up the so-called China threat, cannot solve their own problems,” Zhao said at a regular news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
The extent to which the Chinese government exerts influence over ByteDance has been a source of tension for TikTok as it has expanded internationally. In September 2020, the Trump administration accused TikTok of being “a mouthpiece” for the Communist Party as part of an eventual effort to shut down the app in the US if it wouldn’t be sold to a US owner.
That same month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said in a report that in most countries where it operates, TikTok often buries or hides words that reflect political movements, including criticism of Vladimir Putin, as well as hashtags related to gender and sexual orientation or religion. TikTok strongly denied at the time that it would cooperate with any demands from the Chinese regime.
A sea of government apparatus, state-sanctioned influencers and aggressive news outlets are using social entertainment platforms such as Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, Bilibili Inc, and Weibo Corp to send propaganda to China’s youth.
The Youth League, the Communist Party’s younger members’ branch, is among the top creators of Douyin, with about 8 million followers, double that of Taylor Swift.
Douyin, available in local app stores, is managed as a separate entity. Both TikTok and Douyin focus on creating and sharing short videos, but Douyin has content controls to comply with Chinese law.
The Chinese government wanted advice on how to manage an account that would appeal to a Western audience and that “they also talked about payment,” according to reports Bloomberg saw.