Sunday, December 11, 2022

TikTok: Revealing Fake Information to Viewers- Politics (2020-2022)



         TikTok, a video-sharing app, has been publicly exposed for having videos that could potentially skew people’s opinions in the political election. TikTok has updated their system to catch search terms relating to the election and has taken steps to partner with others in the industry and experts to help limit the spread of these posts. TikTok created new verification and partnered with fact checkers to make sure the content in these posts is accurate. Four ethical theories are discussed when evaluating this case. An individualistic view would agree with the actions of TikTok as they were operating within the law and increasing their profits in doing so. A Utilitarian view would agree with the fact that TikTok is taking measures to limit the spread of misinformation, but also disagree with the fact that the people are becoming unhappy with the posts on this platform. A Kantian view would agree with TikTok because they took actions to do what was right, which was finding a way to stop the spread of misinformation on the app and abided by the Formula of Humanity. Virtue Theory would disagree as TikTok had a lack of trust, good intention, and honesty in their platform. I believe that TikTok completed all the actions they needed to make sure this platform wasn’t a place for users to view false information about the election.


         TikTok has become a place where users are posting information that could have an effect on the election. TikTok has a positive outlook when discussing the issue and the company states, “At TikTok, we take our responsibility to protect the integrity of our platform- particularly around elections- with the utmost seriousness” (Han). With this, it is assumed by readers and viewers that they are taking this very seriously and are working diligently to find a solution to stop the spread of misinformation. According to an article by Rebekah Dunne, she describes that 1,057 U.S. residents were asked about their feelings towards social media and search platforms, specifically TikTok. With this research, “Even though TikTok boosted 100 million users towards the end of last year, it is the least trusted, with only 28% of respondents seeing the social platform as trustworthy” (Dunne). This shows that less than half of the respondents said they trusted this platform for the quality of their videos and if the videos were factual. 28% of respondents who trust TikTok is worrisome because that means that there is a good amount of people who watch these videos, and their opinions might be changed based on what they see. This in the end, could influence the election since these viewers are watching videos regarding political figures. In the wall street journal article, Worries Grow That TikTok Is New Home for Manipulated Video and Photos, Tiffany Hsu writes about the misinformation that these videos on TikTok are showing. This case started in 2020 during the election season when TikTok and other social media platforms vowed to remove or label harmful manipulated content. In November of 2021 there was a video posted of Kamala Harris, the Vice President, altered to make it seem like she was stating that all people hospitalized with Covid-19 were vaccinated. In the original film she was stating that these people that were sick were unvaccinated, but users of TikTok made her seem like she was telling the public that these people were vaccinated. This could potentially ruin her reputation on social media and affect the results in the election. Another example video discussed in the article was in September of 2022. This video that was posted shows political consultant Roger Stone claiming on Telegram that footage showed him calling for violence ahead of the 2020 election. Later, CNN aired that this was fraudulent deep fake videos. This could have a major impact on people’s opinions towards Stone. Stone is being portrayed in this video as wanting violence and the timing of this video being posted is very close to the election. Another example video was from October of 2022 regarding Ms. Biden. There were several TikTok videos that, “manipulated video of Ms. Biden promoting White House cancer initiatives at the Philadelphia Eagles’ home field” (Hsu). These videos were viewed tens of thousands of times. In these videos, the sound of the crowd was replaced with loud booing and heckling. Seeing this video spreads a dislike for Ms. Biden across the country. In October of 2022 two videos were posted that also could have had an effect on the election. The first video being President Biden portrayed to be singing “Baby Shark” instead of the National Anthem. The next video was a video where the White

President Biden singing baby shark

House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was edited to imply she was ignoring a question from a Fox News reporter. With these examples and many more that are out there on social media there is a need for this to be stopped. This is affecting and changing people’s opinions on political measures. Personally, I know when I see a video my first instinct is to not think it is fake. However, seeing videos that involve politics for sure makes me question what I am watching. People started to question these videos and it became such a big deal that researchers wanted to learn more about this app. This research team was from a corporate accountability advocacy group called SumOfUs. This group wanted to test TikTok’s algorithm, so they created an account on this app. They started by searching for the 20 most widely watched videos that showed doubt in the election system. The article stated that, “Within an hour, the algorithm had switched from serving neutral content to pushing more election disinformation, polarizing content, far right extremism, QAnon conspiracy theories and false Covid-19 narratives, the researchers found” (Hsu). TikTok’s response to this was to remove the content and inform the public that they updated their system to catch the search terms used to find these specific videos. These videos violated TikTok’s guidelines, it was just a matter of how to figure out a way to stop this from happening. In closing of the article, it was stated that TikTok had removed all the videos that were reported by The New York Times that went against its policies that “mislead users by distorting the truth of events and cause significant harm to the subject of the video, other persons or society” (Hsu). TikTok took the measures they needed to in dealing with these videos. TikTok stated on their page that they were updating their policies for political accounts. One way to limit these posts was to verify accounts when they are created. Verification is now mandatory for accounts that belong to “governments, politicians, and political parties through midterm elections” (Chandlee). These accounts that belong to politicians and political parties will also have their access to advertising denied which will help TikTok more consistently enforce their policy. A statement from TikTok that caught my eye when thinking of how hard working this company is included, “By prohibiting campaign fundraising and limiting access to our monetization features and verifying accounts, we’re aiming to strike a balance between enabling people to discuss the issues that are relevant to their lives while also protecting the creating, entertaining platform that our community wants” (Chandlee). I believe that TikTok is being very smart in the way they are approaching this issue. They are making sure that their platform can be a place for viewers to learn about politics, something that impacts their lives greatly, but at the same time protecting their company from being a place where misinformation occurs. Another step TikTok did in response to these videos was partnering with experts and fact-checkers to check how accurate the videos being posted are. They also worked in limiting the feed that contained unsubstantial content (Morse). They stated that with these experts it was important that they helped “improve our overall approach to platform integrity, from policies to enforcement strategies to product experiences…” (Morse). These fact checkers assess the accuracy of content in more than 30 languages. TikTok explains that for precaution while this content is being checked it is ineligible for recommendation into For You feeds. This means that it will not show up on viewers' home pages when they are using the app. Throughout political elections TikTok enforces its policies through not allowing, “Paid political advertising, and our Community Guidelines prohibit content including election misinformation, harassment- including that directed towards election workers- hateful behavior, and violent extremism” (Han). This statement from TikTok shows the diligence from their company during the political election.


         The Stakeholders involved with TikTok are TikTok’s 1 billion users across 154 countries, Oracle, Walmart, the U.S. government, the company TikTok Global, TikTok and its technology, and ByteDance (Ruby).

The owner of TikTok, ByteDance

ByteDance is a Chinese internet company that owns TikTok. Oracle acquires 12.5% of the company while Walmart has a 7.5% stake in TikTok (Kovach). ByteDance has the majority of stake in the company with an overwhelming 80%. ByteDance made around $58 billion in revenue in 2022. The app was originally launched in 2016 by ByteDance, so ByteDance owns a large part of the company with other companies having little stake in comparison. ByteDance shareholders include American, Chinese, and international investors. About 53% of TikTok’s global shares are owned by American investors and the two companies Oracle and Walmart. Also, the 8,424 employees are stakeholders of the company as they show interest in working (Zippia). Along with employees, any investors that buy stock in TikTok also show great interest in the company. Throughout my paper, some of the political figures who are stakeholders in this case were President Biden, Kamala Harris, Roger Stone, Ms. Biden, and Karine Jean-Pierre. As a result of this case, the public of America are stakeholders because they are greatly affected by the election and its results.


Individualism, according to Milton Friedman is the idea that the only goal of the business organization is to profit. This means that for an employee of that organization the only obligation they have to the company is to maximize profit for the stockholders and owners and doing this still obeying the law. On the other hand, Tibor Machan had a different view on individualism. His belief towards this was the same as Friedman’s first part but he also included that with keeping in mind that the goal is to profit, employees and workers might have other goals that they are responsible for socially. They can choose to use company resources for social responsibilities if it helps with the overall goal. This is a more free way of individualism and gives the employees, owners, and company a little more freedom with the way they run their organization. Through this company struggle, TikTok abided by the law in their efforts to solve the problem of this spread. Dealing with these videos is shown to not have a negative effect on their profit. From 2020 to 2022 TikTok’s revenue increased from $1.9 billion to $11.64 billion (Ying). Even though they had to spend more of their time focusing on this issue, they were still able to find a way to maximize their profit. If TikTok had not spent their time and efforts on evaluating this issue, they would have not maximized their profits as users wanted to see a change for the better of the app. TikTok cooperated with government and political figures in working to find a way to ensure a safe factual platform for their users.  


Utilitarianism is the idea of maximizing happiness in yourself and others. The main goal is to “bring out happiness and pleasure in all beings capable of feeling it” (Salazar). One way a Utilitarian shows their values is making sure that their actions benefit everyone around them. For example, in a workplace this would include making sure one’s actions benefited all the other workers and the company. Employees at TikTok were most affected during this case. They were being pressured to make sure the content being posted was not fake and affecting the election. Their main goal is to make sure that people are viewing videos that are not edited to make people seem like something they aren’t. Throughout the time that these TikTok’s were being created, employees were making sure that TikTok’s automatic system was catching and deleting them as fast as they could to benefit the company and keep them up in running. In return with the company staying up and running because these posts were getting deleted it benefited other employees and the company because everyone got to keep their jobs. Not only were the employees benefiting by keeping their jobs by making sure these videos are being deleted so the company can succeed, but viewers also appreciate when they scroll through their feed and there are no videos relating to political figures being made out to be something that they are not. When viewers see a post that might not be true, and they know it is not true they could easily become very upset and possibly delete the app because of their frustrations. But, in this case with deleting these posts, viewers will be happy because they most likely won’t see posts they don’t want to see. TikTok is an app that creates happiness for viewers as they view videos that make them laugh and smile. This app is addictive for users as many get stuck scrolling for hours and don’t even realize the time that has passed. A Utilitarian would disagree with the way TikTok can manipulate viewers to believe false information because in the end it is not maximizing one’s happiness. Also, TikTok can get in the way of one’s personal health as they are comparing themselves to these people in these various videos.


         Kantianism is a theory developed by Immanuel Kant that has four basic principles. These include acting rationally, helping others to make rational decisions, respect others, and be motivated to do what is right because it is right. Under Kantianism, The Formula of Humanity states that “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply a means” (Kerstein). This formula explains that you should never treat a person merely as something that is valuable to get something else. TikTok continues to put their efforts in steps to eliminate this misinformation without disregarding The Formula of Humanity towards their users and employees. TikTok is motivated to do what is right in this situation and that is to do everything they can do to prevent these videos from spreading. With this ethical theory, Kantians would agree with the actions and steps that TikTok took to make sure these videos that were election focused were being caught before viewers got to see them and make opinions that are not from facts. This is shown when researchers created a TikTok account to test its algorithm. After creating this account, the researchers searched for the 20 most widely watched videos that showed doubt in the election system. In the New York Times article, Hsu stated that, “Within an hour, the algorithm had switched from serving neutral content to pushing more election disinformation, polarizing content, far right extremism…” (Hsu). Kantians would agree with TikTok’s response to this because they stated that they would remove the content that violated its guidelines and would update its system to catch the search terms used to find the videos. TikTok is doing what is right and is motivated to find the best way to catch these videos that users are posting. They are also respecting these viewers because they don’t want their opinions to be made from watching a video that has fake information. TikTok is not using their viewers for their own personal gain, instead they are trying to find a way to solve this problem. This is a very smart action that TikTok performed because not only does this affect the users in the moment by seeing these videos, but if these videos shape their votes in the election, it could very easily affect the results since this browser is such a worldwide prominent social media app. The company is hard to evaluate since they continue to improve their app to catch misinformation, yet there are still posts out there currently that portray misinformation. Because of their efforts, a Kantian would agree with their actions. TikTok has good intentions, and this is something that is very important when considering the Kantian view. TikTok didn’t create their app wanting people to post misinformation and viewers can notice the efforts they are putting in to stop this.

Americans trust/mistrust in TikTok


         Virtue theory, developed by Aristotle, describes that rationality is the characteristic that makes one person different from another. Aristotle believes that to live a good life and function strongly throughout one's life people must practice rationality. There are four cardinal virtues to virtue theory that are very important to look at when looking into TikTok as a company. These four include: Courage, temperance, justice/fairness, and honesty. The one intellectual virtue that Aristotle describes in this theory is prudence. Prudence is the ability to look forward at your future self and make good decisions in your current experiences to make sure you become the person you want to be. Aristotle believes that happiness comes from living a flourishing life. This means that you have lived your life to its fullest and have taken in and appreciated everything. The main goal of this theory bases the idea of good upon a specific thing’s characteristics and its purpose. When diving into the TikTok case and the way the employees dealt with it through the Virtue Theory, these employees showed great courage when trying to solve this issue. These employees worked long days and were willing to work hard and do anything they needed to make sure these viewers weren’t watching fake news relating to the election. The business as well showed great courage when dealing with this issue. They worked hard to come up with solutions and battled through the adversity they faced as there were many complaints about the posts on the app. Management at TikTok didn’t do a great job with the treatment of their employees, meaning that the second virtue, fairness, was not met by the company. These employees stated in multiple articles that they were working long hours in toxic environments. Some may say that employees were not being fair in the way they chose the videos to remove, but from the insider it is known that experts are the ones that are the deciding factor. The next virtue, temperance, was not met by the company and employees as employees’ expectations were way too high for their position. In an article it is stated that, “Exhausting hours and sleep deprivation are coming amongst staff, while some employees said they averaged 85 hours of meetings per week” (Yahoo Finance). This is not a reasonable expectation for these workers and with this stress and exhaustion it doesn’t do the company any good. The company also had high expectations from the public to get rid of these videos. The last virtue is justice. Justice is described as hard work and good ideas. These employees and TikTok management are working hard to make sure these videos are being deleted from viewers' pages and they have come up with ways to prevent this from happening. For example, updating their system to catch search terms relating to misinformation in the election. Overall, the company shows justice by coming up with solid ideas to stop this spread.


In my opinion, TikTok’s approach to this issue was the best they could do. Even though there is no solution to stopping people from editing posts and posting them for the world to see, I think there are few solutions for TikTok to implement. Although, TikTok was unethical in the way they cared for their employees. With the long hours and overworking of their employees, it became known to the public that one should not apply to work for TikTok because of these conditions.  I think the most unethical part about this case was the fact that in 2020 before the election TikTok agreed to remove or label the harmful manipulated content and clearly this didn’t happen as much as people wanted. Videos were still being posted and seen by the public. The content in videos that are posted on TikTok can be very unethical as described in some of the examples of videos relating to the election. TikTok is a very addictive app, and many people get stuck scrolling for hours. When people get caught up in these videos, they start to form opinions on whatever it is that they are watching. Because social media is a platform with a lot of freedom to post whatever you want, many other companies are struggling with this issue as well. I think that because they are working to update their search terms and catch these videos as quickly as they can, they are taking steps to limit the negative effects of these videos.


         In all, TikTok has created a good baseline for protecting viewers from seeing information that is false. They are trying their best to quickly update their systems to catch all these search terms without getting rid of the app completely. The main issue is that TikTok vowed to remove all content starting in 2020 that would impact the election. As described in my essay it is proven wrong as many accounts of videos were created to depict political figures as something they aren’t. Now, being 2022, there are still several videos being created that viewers are watching that are related to the election and people involved in the election. Throughout my paper, I analyzed TikTok’s response to this issue and used the theories of individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Virtue Theory to evaluate the company.





Chandlee. “Updating Our Policies for Political Accounts.” Newsroom, TikTok, 16 Aug. 2019,

Dunne, Rebekah. “Americans Trust Google More than Facebook, Tiktok.” Search Engine Journal, 10 Mar. 2021,

Han. “Our Commitment to Election Integrity.” Newsroom, TikTok, 16 Aug. 2019,

Hsu, Tiffany. “Worries Grow That TikTok Is New Home for Manipulated Video and Photos.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Nov. 2022,

Kerstein, Samuel. “Treating Persons as Means.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 13 Apr. 2019,,1785%3A%20429%2C%20italics%20removed).

Lin, Ying. “Tiktok Ad Revenue (2019–2024).” Oberlo, Oberlo,

Morse, Andrew. “Tiktok Removed Nearly 350,000 Videos Related to Election Misinformation.” CNET, CNET, 25 Feb. 2021,

Ruby, Daniel, and About The Author Daniel Ruby Content writer with 10+ years of experience. I write across a range of subjects. “35+ Tiktok User Statistics: How Many TikTok Users Are There in 2022?” Demandsage, 16 Nov. 2022,

Salazar, Heather. The Business Ethics Case Manual .

Stevekovach. “Tiktok Deal Puts U.S. Owners in Charge, but Chinese Parent Company Still Has Some Say.” CNBC, CNBC, 22 Sept. 2020,

“TikTok Staff Speak out about Toxic Work Culture and Emphasis on 'Relentless Productivity'.” Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!,

             “Working at TikTok.” Employee Reviews and Culture, 18 Nov. 2022,

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