December 15th, 2015

TikTok removed videos by creators after a BBC investigation found them posting paid political content without disclosure

Trump TikTokPhoto Illustration by Andrea Ronchini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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TikTok removed videos after a BBC investigation found stars posting political videos without disclosing that they had been paid to do so by a marketing company.

The BBC's Sophia Smith Galer reported that Bigtent Creative, an agency which grew out of Elizabeth Warren's campaign in the Democratic primaries, had been funding posts on the platform.

Smith Galer said that Bigtent-funded posts were a mixture of nonpartisan content encouraging people to register to vote, and some videos which explicitly encouraged people to vote against President Donald Trump.

The latter category would put the posts under different rules, since they would count as campaigning.

Bigtent Creative told the BBC that it gets non-partisan funding, and that the creators' videos should not have had anti-Trump sentiments.

The BBC reported that TikTok removed the videos after the BBC flagged them, citing the policy banning political advertising across the platform, and another requiring users to disclose when content has been paid for.

The videos got hundreds of thousands of views before they were removed, the BBC reported. The report did not name the creators, or how many were involved.

Creators have to disclose paid endorsements

A TikTok spokesperson told the BBC: "These guidelines also apply to paid content by influencers, and we rely on influencers and marketers to follow FTC guidelines.

"We remove paid influencer content that's not disclosed as such as we become aware of it and are now taking action on this."

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that paid endorsements on social media platforms like TikTok must be disclosed, typically by adding "Sponsored" or "#ad" to a post.

At least one of the creators told the BBC that they were unaware they were supposed to disclose the payment for the video.

Ysiad Ferreiras, Bigtent's CEO, said: "Our work is not consistent with the platform's definition of an advertisement. Our creators make their own content as digital organisers, they're advocating for non-partisan action the same way paid canvassers and organisers working for non-profits do."

Some of the videos were anti-Trump

The FTC says that paid-for material that is non-partisan and encourages people to vote is not considered to be political and doesn't need to be disclosed, the BBC noted.

But some of the videos explicitly encouraged people to stop Trump from being elected.

Trump debate.JPGREUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

The BBC reported that the removed videos were often skits or memes, similar to the creators' regular output. They included a remix of the song "WAP" by Cardi B with the sound of Cardi B telling people to vote.

One of the series supported by Bigtent Creative was a number of high-profile creators forming a "vote chain" — where the creators made side-by-side videos called duets that promoted a voter registration link.

But it reported that some of the creators included messages against Trump, like: "Trump is trying to ban TikTok again... can we please vote him out?"

That chain is still on TikTok, but other funded chains that included creators calling Trump an "angry Cheeto" and "orange Brussel sprout" were removed, the BBC reported.

Bigtent Creative told the BBC that it has helped register 25,000 voters so far, with about half of those coming from TikTok.

The company says on its website "We create new ways for GenZ and Millennials to engage in politics, meet them where they are, and influence their peers."

Read the full BBC report >>

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