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TikTok won’t gag users but will firmly enforce its standards

By Jacob Nyongesa

TikTok has existed in Kenya since 2016. The app is popular as a video platform where people can share and edit short videos. The largest demographic of TikTok users is between the ages of 16 and 24, but the app has also attracted other age groups.

Myths abound about the platform and this has made it popular and bashed in equal measure. One of the most common perceptions about the app is that it is a platform for misinformation and disinformation.

But this was dispelled during a workshop organised by TikTok in Nairobi. The team said the platform has policies in place to prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Users who post false or misleading information have been banned from the platform.

On the positive side, TikTok is a popular platform for entertainment and creativity in Kenya, and there are cases where Kenyans have used it to share videos of themselves dancing, singing, lip-syncing, and performing other creative acts. This has helped to foster a sense of community and creativity among Kenyans.

Another misunderstood aspect of the app is its ownership. Many people claim that is Chinese-owned. The fact is the parent company ByteDance Ltd was founded by Chinese entrepreneurs, but today, almost 60 per cent of the company is owned by global institutional investors such as Carlyle Group, General Atlantic, and Susquehanna International Group.
Some 20 per cent of the company is owned by ByteDance employees around the world, including Australians. The remaining 20 per cent is owned by the company’s founder, who is a private individual and is not part of any state or government entity.

President William Ruto held a meeting with the Tiktok team after Parliament received a petition to have the platform banned. An influencer on X (formerly Twitter) sensationally claimed that the government may moderate content to its favour. However, TikTok does not permit any government to influence or change its recommendation model. Users can find a variety of content and views expressed about certain political issues or events, including those which are critical of the Chinese government and its official positions.

During the workshop, the issue of content moderation versus freedom of expression was discussed, and it was clear that there are a number of factors that platforms need to consider when making decisions about content moderation. These include the potential harm that the content could cause, the right to freedom of expression, and the platform’s own policies and terms of service.

In conclusion, the meeting agreed that a multistakeholder partnership needs to be adopted in creating awareness on responsible use of content on the platform. Different organisations including Media Council of Kenya have been engaged in sensitising the public use of content online. These efforts need to be doubled to enhance the capacity of the users through media, information, digital and literacy forums on their responsible access and use of content.

Senior Officer, Research Planning and Strategy Department

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