TikTok punishes Baudet after violating rules

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TikTok punishes Baudet after violating rules

Thierry Baudet paid TikTok for extra reach on the platform in the run-up to the provincial elections, while the company explicitly forbids this, BNR discovered. Advertising videos from his account were viewed at least two million times.

Screenshots of the commercials that Thierry Baudet used on TikTok prior to the March 15 elections. The ‘Recl’ tag shows that Baudet has paid for the promotion on the platform. The videos received more than two million views and tens of thousands of interactions. (BNR)

Other parties active on the platform, such as VVD and Groenlinks, do adhere to the ban. Because the Forum for Democracy is the only party that seems to be violating the advertising ban for the time being, an uneven playing field is created on TikTok during the campaign period. More than a million voters can be reached with a few thousand euros.

In the run-up to the provincial elections, the medium offers access to more than three million voters, mainly young people. At the beginning of this year, the app had 850,000 users in the 20 to 24 age group.

Lack transparency TikTok

Forum for Democracy also seems to have this target group in mind in the advertisements that are placed. The party paid at least twice this week, just before the election, to promote content on the platform. These are videos in which Baudet enters into a collaboration with a rapper via his personal account to make a music track. (‘Not politically correct / I say what I want as Baudet / A government under Rutte / never that I trusted them’). The videos together have more than two million views on the platform. Baudet (or other politicians) may have placed more advertisements – TikTok does not disclose this.

Another advertisement, with a direct call to vote from Thierry Baudet, came online via an account that does not seem to be directly connected to Forum. This video reached 1.6 million views.

Baudet circumvented advertising bans for politicians with apparent ease

Both videos are prohibited under TikTok’s terms of use. Not only is politically tinted advertising not allowed, the platform prohibits politicians from advertising on the medium at all. “Access to advertising features is automatically disabled,” writes TikTok “for accounts of politicians and political parties.” In an earlier conversation with BNR, Theo Berthram, chief lobbyist for TikTok in Europe, said that this rule was hardly violated: “We don’t allow political ads, nobody tries to post political ads.”

It is unclear how Baudet managed to circumvent this ban, but TikTok may only impose these restrictions on ‘verified’ political accounts, which have personally made themselves known to the party through proof of identification. Using verified accounts offers some protection against disinformation, but many Dutch politicians choose not to get verified because TikTok also curtails the creative options for these types of accounts.

TikTok blocks going live, advertising opportunities

The ease with which Baudet seems to circumvent the rules raises questions about TikTok’s moderation capacity. After BNR showed earlier this month that it was possible to spread disinformation and calls for political violence via TikTok advertisements, the company promised to invest more in this.

TikTok has already imposed restrictions on Baudet. In a video that appeared online this Monday, the party leader is upset about a ban on live videos that he would have received from TikTok. Baudet keeps his phone in view. ‘Permanently blocked for violating Community Guidelines’ reads on the screen. TikTok informs BNR that politicians are never allowed to go live on the medium and that it has therefore withdrawn privileges for this on the account.

TikTok says in a response that it has also blocked advertising opportunities for Baudet. “Ads should never have been placed from this account. The advertisements themselves were also not allowed,” a spokesperson told BNR.

‘Tiktok first and foremost entertainment platform’

TikTok itself writes that it bans political advertising because it is “first and foremost an entertainment platform.” Due to this total ban, TikTok also escapes obligations imposed by the EU in the field of transparency around political advertisements.

The originally Chinese company behind TikTok, ByteDance, has been the subject of political controversy in recent months. The company was caught spying on journalists through the app and using a “keylogger” that may have been silently recording personal information such as passwords. D66, ChristenUnie and the Party for the Animals have therefore previously called on political parties not to use the app during campaign times. D66 also advocates a ban on the app on the telephone of civil servants.

Forum for Democracy did not want to answer questions from BNR.

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