This article was published on October 21, 2019

TikTok fights back against ISIS propaganda

TikTok fights back against ISIS propaganda
Rachel Kaser
Story by

Rachel Kaser

Internet Culture Writer

Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback riding. Check her Twitter for curmudgeonly criticisms.

TikTok, the song-and-dance social media app that’s spiked in popularity this year, is allegedly the site of the latest attempt by the Islamic State terrorist organization (ISIS) to spread propaganda. While the site is banning the problematic accounts, it’s still a worrying trend.

According a Wall Street Journal report, the organization is attempting to use the TikTok format to make themselves more appealing. Social media intelligence agency Storyful identified two dozen accounts spreading the bad news via TikTok. These accounts posted videos showing corpses, people singing ISIS songs, and women affirming a “jihadist” stance, often as hearts and stars pour across the screen. It sounds like a particularly macabre twist on the app’s typical fare.

The app has since removed the two dozen accounts distributing the propaganda, as promoting terrorist organizations is against the company’s rules, which state:”Terrorist organizations and any other criminal organizations are strictly prohibited from using TikTok. DO NOT use TikTok to promote and support these organizations or individuals.”

While none of the accounts appear to have been particularly popular, at least a few did amass more than 1,000 followers, and one video the WSJ saw had 68 likes — which is a little worrying. It’s also concerning that the company only removed the vids after WSJ flagged them. We’ve reached out to TikTok to find out if the company has removed more videos like these in the past.

Given that a large number of TikTok’s users (at least in my experience with the app) appear to be young and therefore malleable, it’s likely they’re the audience to whom the Islamic State is attempting to appeal. WSJ also reports that some of the accounts seemed to target young women in particular, with the extremist footage interspersed with pictures of running horses and attractive young men. (Admittedly, my first reaction was “How dare you bring the horses into this!”)

TikTok’s been getting steadily more political since its spike in popularity. Last week, the company apparently rescinded its “shadow ban” on pro-Trump content. Before then, it would reportedly censor posts in certain areas of the world, with content relating to LGBTQ+ relationships and anything criticizing the Chinese government being banned in Turkey and China, respectively. For the record, TikTok is owned by Chinese company Byte Dance. The company has since said the rules which permitted those censorships were outdated.

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