Nov 16, 2023 - Technology

TikTok shifts to aggressive communications strategy as criticism mounts

Illustration of hands fighting over the Tik Tok logo.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As TikTok draws more eyeballs, it also draws more criticism — prompting it to respond with forceful communications.

Why it matters: TikTok is the latest organization to deploy aggressive communication tactics to counter untrue or unflattering allegations as a way to influence public opinion and protect corporate reputation.

Between the lines: This is part of a broader shift toward a type of more aggressive communications, often seen in political playbooks.

  • TikTok recently hired well-known political communicator and former Disney CCO Zenia Mucha to oversee brand and communications.

Catch up quick: The social media giant came under fire after news outlets pointed out the disproportionate amount of pro-Palestinian hashtags on the platform compared to that of pro-Israel hashtags.

  • Elected officials have since accused TikTok of brainwashing young Americans by pushing "rampant pro-Hamas propaganda."
  • TikTok then published a blog post pushing back against the "mischaracterization" of how its algorithms and hashtags work.
  • "Blunt comparisons of hashtags is severely flawed and misrepresentative of the activity on TikTok," states the blog.
  • TikTok used it as an opportunity to point out the disproportionate number of pro-Palestinian posts on competing platforms like Instagram and Facebook as well.

What they're saying: "There was a fast moving, false narrative that the publicly available data simply didn't support," says a TikTok spokesperson.

  • "We thought it was important to set the record straight, making a clear apples-to-apples comparison. In light of misinformation about how TikTok actually operates, we thought it was important for everyone to have the facts."

Of note: TikTok has also removed more than 925,000 videos in the region since Oct. 7 for violating policies about violence and misinformation, per the blog.

The big picture: TikTok isn't alone when it comes to swiftly countering a public narrative. If an outside event or issue could threaten corporate reputation, then communications teams are increasingly stepping in.

What to watch: As AI-generated content becomes more easily accessible, so too will the opportunity for mass dis- and misinformation to spread, meaning social media platforms like TikTok will be under heightened scrutiny.

  • TikTok's response to the Israel-Hamas hashtag issue offers insight into how the platform could respond to future criticisms.
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