Russian state-backed TikTok posts surge as U.S. election nears: report – National |

Russian state-backed accounts on TikTok are posting far more, and reaching many more people, in the lead-up to the U.S. election, a new report finds.

And it says the exposure may impact voters’ willingness to “mobilize or take actions” that could help the target of false or hyperpartisan content, the report states.

“(The accounts) were focusing on things that could be quite potent or quite prominent wedge issues for young voters,” the report’s author Valerie Wirtschafter told Global News.

Those include the United State’s policies on Israel, immigration concerns (the report found Spanish posts had high engagement) and Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Wirtschafter examined 70 Russian state-linked accounts. She determined they posted about twice as many times per day in 2024 so far than in 2023, rising to four or five times per day from two or three times.

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And many more people are seeing the posts. Wirtschafter found engagements rose from three million per day in 2022 to 13 million per day in 2024. A small portion of the posts focus on wedge issues.

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The report, from the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution, outlines a contrast in how the Russian state-linked posts portrayed the two presidential candidates. The posts about Biden focused on his age and questioned whether he was fit for another term in office, whereas the posts about Trump looked at his humour, stance on NATO and limited-edition shoe line.

“It was very much one-dimensional in terms of the type of narrative,” Wirtschafter said, telling Global News the TikTok accounts also raised concerns about Biden’s handling of classified documents, while no post mentioned Trump’s handling of them.

“There’s a real incentive or a real interest in Russia to try and drive these issues,” she said, because of the potential “momentum gains” Russia would receive if Donald Trump were elected since he has a friendlier stance on Russia than Biden does.

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The report cautioned that TikToks may not change voters’ beliefs though they “may impact voters’ willingness to mobilize or take actions.”

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It’s “not necessarily about persuasion but mobilization,” meaning the videos could convince people not to vote for Biden if they already had doubts about him, Wirtschafter said.

American lawmakers recently voted to force ByteDance, which owns TikTok, to either sell the video app or not operate it in the U.S. over concerns ByteDance would share users’ personal information with the Chinese government. ByteDance says it will fight the decision.

Wirtschafter said an American company owning the platform wouldn’t solve the problem of Russian videos because mis- and disinformation would still be posted.

“Engagement with and timely debunking of these narratives, where possible and appropriate, remain critical,” she wrote in the report.

She said flagging sources as being affiliated with the Russian state and having other users and the platforms flag and correct falsehoods is important.

She also suggested Russian activity on TikTok would only grow.

“My sense is that this is not a fully realized space for Russian state-affiliated accounts yet.”

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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