TikTok wrote to Australian political parties in November last year warning them against attempting to pay influencers or engage in any other sort of advertising on its platform, Guardian Australia can reveal.
Just months out from the next federal election, the letters were sent after Crikey reported a US-based marketing agency had emailed a campaign brief to a TikTok user offering $300 for the user to make and post a video on the theme of “Scott Morrison is too slow and always late”.
When the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, was asked on Thursday about the November report, he told radio station 6PR he wasn’t familiar with it.
“Well, it is the first I’ve heard of it. But it wouldn’t be too hard for people to post TikTok videos along that theme. Because that is a theme that is characterised by this government. That is what we hear back,” he said.
He argued politicians wouldn’t need to pay people to post that kind of content.
“You don’t need any incentive to encourage people to put things on social media of a partisan nature against the PM, against me, against Clive Palmer, against anyone. That’s one of the facts of what happens with social media.”
While politicians are allowed to use TikTok, they are not allowed to advertise on the platform under TikTok’s branded content policy. Unlike other platforms such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, TikTok does not allow advertising for political content.
“Our advertising policies are strict. On TikTok in Australia, we do not allow ads for alcohol, gambling or political parties and causes,” Brent Thomas, TikTok’s director of public policy in Australia and New Zealand, told a parliamentary committee on social media and online safety on Thursday.
This policy was questioned at the hearing by United Australia Party leader, Craig Kelly, whose party has been spending millions in advertising on other platforms. Thomas replied that TikTok is primarily an entertainment platform, and while political commentary is allowed, political advertising is not.
“We want to make sure that as long as the content that is uploaded adheres to our community guidelines, it’s absolutely OK. But where it is a paid political advertising component? That’s where we draw the line.”
“So I could advertise McDonald’s, but I couldn’t advertise the Republican party in the US?” Kelly asked.
“Our advertising policies are transparently explained and there are a number of different aspects … which we don’t allow advertising for; that includes alcohol, gambling, weight loss programs and supplements and political advertising,” Thomas replied.
TikTok has invited the committee to the company’s transparency centre to get an understanding of how the platform recommends videos to users. However, deputy chair of the committee, Tim Watts, called on the company to provide reports on what videos are getting the most engagement in Australia, similar to the reports available through CrowdTangle about Facebook.
People who accept money for advertising political parties in any media in Australia without adequate disclosure or political authorisation can be fined up to $26,640 by the Australian Electoral Commission.