A few months ago on Your Undivided Attention, we released a Spotlight episode on TikTok's national security risks. Since then, we've learned more about the dangers of the China-owned company: We've seen evidence of TikTok spying on US journalists, and proof of hidden state media accounts to influence the US elections. We’ve seen Congress ban TikTok on most government issued devices, and more than half of US states have done the same, along with dozens of US universities who are banning TikTok access from university wifi networks. More people in Western governments and media are saying that they used to believe that TikTok was an overblown threat. But as we've seen more evidence of national security risks play out, there’s even talk of banning TikTok itself in certain countries. But is that the best solution? If we opt for a ban, how do we, as open societies, fight accusations of authoritarianism?
On this episode of Your Undivided Attention, we're going to do a deep dive into these questions with Marc Faddoul. He's the co-director of Tracking Exposed, a nonprofit investigating the influence of social media algorithms in our lives. His work has shown how TikTok tweaks its algorithm to maximize partisan engagement in specific national elections, and how it bans international news in countries like Russia that are fighting propaganda battles inside their own borders. In other words, we don't all get the same TikTok because there are different geopolitical interests that might guide which TikTok you see. That is a kind of soft power that TikTok operates on a global scale, and it doesn’t get talked about often enough.
We hope this episode leaves you with a lot to think about in terms of what the risks of TikTok are, how it's operating geopolitically, and what we can do about it.
Marc Faddoul is an algorithm audit expert, affiliated scholar at UC Berkeley and co-director of Tracking Exposed, a non-profit which investigates the influential algorithms in our lives.
With Tracking Exposed he is currently scrutinizing TikTok, YouTube and PornHub's recommender systems on issues of data malpractice, election integrity, information warfare and more. His work is cited by representatives of the US Congress and the European Commission thanks to Tracking Exposed’s unique tools which inform global tech regulation debates with current, quantitative research.
As an expert commentator on algorithmic harms, Marc is regularly quoted in the Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde and more. He’s also a member of the French Digital Council and the committee advising the French national media regulator ARCOM.
Marc started his career building algorithms but quickly moved to analyzing their impact on society. He carried out research on algorithmic systems in academia (UC Berkeley), startups, and big tech (Facebook AI), which led him to defend digital rights through algorithmic transparency.
Marc holds an engineering degree and MS in Data Science from Télécom Paris, and a MS in Information Systems from the UC Berkeley School of Information.
How has the Ukraine-Russia war affected the content that TikTok users see in Russia?
How are TikTok’s policy decisions affecting pro-war and anti-war content availability in Russia?
The visibility of French candidates on TikTok and YouTube Search Engines
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