Millions of European TikTok users have been inundated with ads promoting Chinese state propaganda on various topics, including COVID-19 and tourism in Xinjiang, a region known for its human rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs. The analysis conducted by Forbes revealed that these ads echoed messages propagated by China’s state media. One ad showcased Xinjiang as a desirable tourist destination with cute cats playing on the Great Wall, while another featured a vlogger accusing Western media of spreading falsehoods about the Chinese government’s human rights violations.
The ad library shared by TikTok on July 20 displayed over 1,000 ads from Chinese state media outlets that ran on European users’ feeds since October 2022. The advertisements originated from sources like The People’s Daily and CGTN, controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. The ads were seen by millions of users across various European countries, while data for countries outside Europe was not yet available.
Xinjiang was referenced in 92 of 124 adverts promoted by one Chinese state propaganda outlet’s social media account. Some ads from China News International depicted traditional dances and praised Xinjiang as “a good place,” which contrasts starkly with reports of unjust arrests and detention centers where prisoners are allegedly subjected to forced labor.
The ads appear to contradict TikTok’s ad policies, which state that the platform does not show political or election-related ads. Additionally, the short-form video-sharing app prohibits advertising on social issues, elections, and politics. TikTok spokesperson, Jamie Favazza, clarified that state-controlled media outlets were not categorized as government agencies, and the exception allowing government entities to advertise did not apply to them.
Concerns over TikTok’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party have long been voiced by US government officials, who warn of potential data access granted to China. Critics fear China could use the platform to snoop on its vast user base, including the more than 150 million users in the US. In response, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation banning the Chinese-owned TikTok from operating in the state starting January 1, 2024, making it the first state to enact such a ban.
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