Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Islamic State propagandists are reportedly trying to exploit social media app TikTok as a recruiting tool. The Wall Street Journal says social media monitoring agency Storyful recently identified around two dozen ISIS-related accounts, all of which have since been removed. The accounts posted videos aimed at recruiting followers and bolstering support for the terrorist group — featuring Islamic State anthems and footage of corpses and ISIS fighters.
It’s not clear how big a presence ISIS has on TikTok. Terrorist propaganda is a perennial issue for social media platforms. Companies like Facebook and Google share a database of known terrorist imagery that can be automatically removed when it’s detected online. They’ve also faced (and won) several lawsuits for allowing it even temporarily on their platforms. Facebook said in September that it removed more than 26 million pieces of global terrorist propaganda over the past two years. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about how much terrorist content TikTok finds and takes down.
The accounts that Storyful identified also appear to be relatively small. The Journal identifies one video as earning 68 likes and some accounts as having around 1,000 followers; Storyful didn’t immediately confirm whether that’s typical of the accounts’ popularity, or whether these are the first accounts they’ve found on TikTok.
TikTok videos circulate largely thanks to TikTok’s recommendation algorithm. And in this case, it’s not clear that the algorithm is promoting ISIS content, just that this content exists on the hugely popular platform. However, as the Journal notes, TikTok has a young user base and is known for lighthearted, joke-y content — sometimes to the point of alleged political censorship. So there’s an added incongruity when it’s used by terrorists.