- Parody accounts of world leaders are all over popular video app TikTok, Bloomberg reports.
- The app doesn’t have a strong verification system to identify genuine accounts.
- Despite it’s popularity, officials, especially in the US, have mostly avoided TikTok, at least in part due to security concerns over the Chinese-owned company.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
World leaders might not be using TikTok, but that doesn’t stop copycat accounts from impersonating them on the app, according to a report from Bloomberg’s Maria Jose Valero and Yueqi Yang.
Multiple accounts that impersonate the Bernie Sanders campaign or Donald Trump have popped up on the app. These accounts claim to be run by the president or senator, or by members of their team, and sometimes repost official Instagram videos. As a result, other TikTok users can be easily confused about what accounts are genuine.
Bloomberg noted that other world leaders have impersonators, too: fake accounts pretending to be UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi have cropped up as well.
A spokesperson for TikTok directed Business Insider to the app’s community guidelines, which say: “We do not allow users to impersonate other individuals or organizations in order to deceive the public. When we confirm reports of impersonation, we remove the violating accounts. We do allow exceptions for parody, commentary, or fan accounts, as long as the account does not mislead others with regard to its identity or purpose on TikTok.”
TikTok’s verification system, like much of the app’s inner workings, remains mostly opaque. Some creators, like breakout star Charli D’Amelio, and celebrities, like Will Smith, are verified, represented with a small checkmark on their profile that has become the internet’s universal sign for verification.
Verification is just one piece of the larger moderation issue that TikTok has struggled with since its US launch in 2018. In September, The Guardian reported that moderators on the app were instructed to censor content that could offend the Chinese government, including mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests or Tibetan Independence. TikTok said that the policies were outdated, and that it now uses “localized approaches” to moderation.
The company has since faced other moderation scandals, including admitting it hid videos from disabled creators from the “For You” page, which it claimed was to prevent bullying.
It makes sense that US leaders would avoid the app. TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, the highest-valued private company in the world, and this ownership raises red flags for some US lawmakers.
In October, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida asked the Trump administration to investigate the app based on what he called “ample and growing evidence” of censorship at the request of China. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton wrote a letter to the US head of national security asking for an investigation into the app as a counterintelligence risk. The US Navy and Army have both barred TikTok from government phones.
Still, that hasn’t stopped accounts that impersonate political leaders from popping up on the app. This account, which Bloomberg confirmed was not connected to the Sanders campaign, simply calls itself “Bernie Sanders Team,” clearly implying that the account is officially connected with his run for office.
The Trump account described by Bloomberg has been deleted, but a quick search reveals many accounts ready to step into its place. With names like “Donaldtrumpteam” and “the_donaldtrump,” and mostly reposts of Trump speeches, they aren’t particularly convincing, although they could be confusing to younger or less internet-savvy users.
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To add to the confusion, not every account claiming to be a political candidate is fake. Joshua Collins, a 26-year-old congressional candidate, uses TikTok to communicate with supporters. His account is not verified.
But until TikTok adds a more straightforward verification system, we’re likely to see these issues continue to crop up.
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