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We know our heritage bring scrutiny but TikTok is no dystopia

4 min read

“Teens lip-syncing to dance videos” is a long-outdated view of TikTok which simply doesn't reflect what tens of millions of people – of all ages – experience on our platform in 2024.

Take #BookTok, the viral trend that sees users review and recommend books. Research by the United Kingdom’s Publishers Association found three-in-five 16 to 25 year-olds credited BookTok with igniting a passion for reading. Angelica Malin, of the famous The Notting Hill Bookshop, praises the trend for a surge in sales.

It's not just book shops enjoying a business boost thanks to TikTok. Oxford Economics found that small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) using TikTok contributed an additional £1.6bn to the UK economy, supporting 32,000 jobs. Alana Spencer, founder of Welsh bakery Ridiculously Rich, credits TikTok with saving her now-flourishing business after Covid closed her cafes.

From British organist Anna Lapwood finding global renown through TikTok videos of her performances, to Children in Need using TikTok Live to boost fundraising, our platform is a rich tapestry of entertainment, the arts, music and much more. After Jess Phillips MP highlighted surging measles cases in the West Midlands, we launched an MMR jabs uptake campaign with NHS clinicians.

In the last edition of The House, however, Lord Alton painted a dystopian picture of TikTok, scaremongering about disinformation, censorship and security. Strikingly, what was repeatedly not provided was evidence to back these allegations up.

Some can be dismissed simply by checking our app. For example, opening my TikTok now and searching Tiananmen Square massacre, I am served with a host of videos about it. These censorship claims have also been debunked by the Cato Institute, an American think tank.

Accusations that TikTok drives polarisation fly in the face of what politicians have said they experience on the platform. Many find it a more positive place, less prone to the trolling and abuse they receive elsewhere. The German Chancellor, French and Belgian prime ministers and president of the European Parliament have all recently joined.

On transparency and safety, we have led the way. In an unmatched step, we opened up the source code that powers our platform to independent third-party inspection by a United States firm, and last year implemented an automatic 60-minute screentime limit for teen users who are under 18.

The daily reality is tens of millions in the UK find entertainment, information and inspiration on our app

We know that the fact the founders of our parent company are Chinese entrepreneurs brings additional scrutiny. This is even though that company, Bytedance, is in fact around 60 per cent owned by institutional investors such as Blackrock and General Atlantic, 20 per cent owned by the founders and 20 per cent owned by employees around the world. You'll find greater Chinese ownership in many other global firms.

But where we see concerns, we seek to address them comprehensively. In the UK and Europe, TikTok is set to invest over £10bn over the next decade in our industry-leading data security initiative Project Clover. In another unmatched step, leading UK cybersecurity firm NCC Group will independently monitor, check, and verify our data security measures, and have already begun this work.

Like thousands of other companies, from tech and financial services to automotive, we have employees in China. Project Clover puts in place additional data access restrictions. These include, since last summer, new security protocols designed to ensure no access to 'restricted data' – more sensitive information such as phone numbers or email addresses – stored in our European data enclave from employees in China, which will be overseen by NCC Group.

Professor Milton Mueller, a cybersecurity expert at the respected Georgia Institute of Technology, who has independently studied TikTok, found "simply no evidence" to support claims of TikTok being used for propaganda, adding: "We did not find any evidence that TikTok is a national security threat."

While TikTok is treated as a geopolitical football, the daily reality is that tens of millions in the UK find entertainment, information and inspiration on our app. From the Yorkshire farmer encouraging people to take up his profession to army veterans sharing their struggles with - post-traumatic stress disorder, and the young woman from Sheffield, previously bullied for severe acne but who came to TikTok to document her skincare journey and now has a million followers, everyone can find a community where they can feel safe and thrive.

Ali Law is TikTok's director of public policy for the UK and Ireland

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