Rise to Peace blog

What Role Does TikTok Play in Radicalization?

TikTok is the fastest growing social media application currently available. It has surpassed two billion downloads globally and despite its typical lighthearted content, TikTok has not been immune from extremist content.

As an example, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has actively used the application since 2019 as a recruitment tool as another element in its social media networking. This development requires analysis in regard to questions of national security.

Per the Social Contract Theory, states are responsible for the implementation of measures meant to protect its citizenry from conditions that threaten their human rights.

TikTok and social media in general present unique challenges to national security policies and legislation, such as managing the risk of radicalization across demographics. For example, according to Statista 32.5% of TikTok users range from ten to nineteen years old while 29.5% range from the ages nineteen and twenty. This data is significant once placed into the context of a recent study in which the authors concluded that users of the social media platform are more likely to be manipulated by the content they see.

Per Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, internet companies are not legally responsible for the content they host if it was published by someone else. The act allows users to post about controversial political topics online.

With an increase of users on social media platforms, amendments need to be made that ensure social platforms such as Tik-Tok can be held responsible if there is evidence of negligence in the removal of terrorism-related content. Tik-Tok has addressed the use of its platform by terrorist organizations and will ban any accounts and associated devices as soon as they are identified.

It is important that social media companies implement policies and technologies that identify extremist accounts especially on fast-growing and extremely popular ones like TikTok.

Confronting terrorist organizations and stemming their propaganda will markedly impact their radicalization networks and in turn, limit the number of successful recruitments to the cause. Therefore, weakening these networks as part of a wider digital counter-extremism effort upheld by private and public sectors is vital.

The use of TikTok by terrorist organizations, such as ISIL, to spread propaganda is evident of two key issues. Firstly, they are not going anywhere anytime soon, and secondly, obtaining access to social media platforms is not an issue for them.

TikTok’s ‘no-tolerance’ response to terrorist organizations utilizing their social media platform as a recruitment and indoctrination tool provides a level of trust with TikTok’s creator ByteDance, despite other privacy concerns.

Combatting terrorism domestically and internationally is a lofty enough task for the United States government as well as for its allies.  The additional strain digital terrorism poses adds another level of concern.

Extremism on social media networks, and on the Dark Web for the matter, is even more complex as it is harder to confront unseen threats that cannot be contained. This is why it is so vital that the implementations of new policies and the amendments to old ones must include technological developments if they are to provide security for citizens of the state. It is, after all, the responsibility of the state to combat terrorism in all forms that threaten the well-being of citizens.

In conclusion, past policies that have been implemented prior to the increased variety and usage of social media platforms, such as the Communications Decency Act, should be re-examined. Amendments should be discussed, especially in the context of the fast-developing digital world.

–Clarissa Lopez

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