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Far-right figures flock to TikTok to beat social media bans

It is supposed to be the home for Generation Zedders to share lip-syncs of their favourite songs to friends, or – now – for bored millennials to make up bizarre dance routines during the coronavirus lockdown.

But TikTok’s PG image is under threat after it was infiltrated by people using the app for slightly more unorthodox goals.

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Far-right groups have joined the music platform – which boasts an audience largely of people aged between 16 and 24 – to beat bans from other social media platforms and spread their hate.

One newcomer to the platform is Islamophobic hate group, Britain First. In an email to supporters, they said:

“Britain First has been censored on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, so we’re giving TikTok a go.”

To their 571 followers, the far-right “party” has posted videos about “Islamist grooming gangs”, and fake news about Muslims not following lockdown rules.

One video also implies Muslims are the “enemy” who “inspire people to chop heads off” and another shows party leader, Paul Golding, vowing to “fight until the bitter end until we are spitting blood”.

In the last few years, the far-right has struggled to share these charming messages in the mainstream. In 2017, Twitter suspended Britain First’s account after the social media platform implemented new anti-abuse rules.

After an attempt to rejoin the platform with a rebrand, the “political party” was kicked off Twitter again this year. It has also been banned from Facebook.

Meanwhile, Tommy Robinson was banned from YouTube in 2019 for breaching its hate speech policy and has similarly been banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Now, however, he’s trying his luck at TikTok.

Posting on Telegram Robinson explained his reasons for joining the platform. He said:

“I’m trying to keep up with the kids so I’ve joined TikTok”.

His TikTok bio adds: “Banned from all Western social media, let’s give the Chinese a go”.

Currently, far-right figures mainly lurk on encrypted messaging site Telegram. However, Telegram’s limited user base (roughly 200 million worldwide) has in turn restricted the reach of Robinson and Britain First.

With over 800m users worldwide, TikTok could offer them a lifeline.

Already amassing a following of some 16,000 people, Robinson’s videos include one in which he complains about witnessing a Muslim funeral despite there being a lockdown in Britain. This is his most popular video and has been viewed over 200,000 times, despite spreading fake news – Boris Johnson has explicitly said funerals can go ahead during lockdown.

In another, Robinson boasts about finding the platform, which is owned by a Chinese tech company. He says:

“British government what are you going to do about this? You can’t put pressure on China!”

Fortunately, it seems unlikely that Tommy Robinson and Britain First will remain on the platform, if TikTok properly enforces its Community Guidelines.

TikTok states that the platform does not allow “threats of violence” or intimidation “in the pursuit of political, religious, ethnic, or ideological objectives”.

It also has a specific section on hate speech, claiming:

“We do not tolerate content that attacks or incites violence against an individual or a group of individuals on the basis of protected attributes.”

“Misleading information” and “misinformation meant to incite fear, hate, or prejudice” is also banned.

TikTok has been approached for comment.

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