MPs: Government ‘Should Use TikTok’ To Reach Young People

The government should reach out to young people on social media platforms, including TikTok, to help combat misinformation, a cross-party group of MPs has said.

The Culture, Media and Sport committee said ministers should use platforms that have become popular with young people as they have turned away from standard news sources.

The report highlights a dilemma for Western governments over the use of TikTok, which is hugely popular, especially with young people, but has been accused of ties to the Chinese government – something the company has always denied.

The app is banned from official government devices and is blocked on Parliament’s Wi-Fi network.

Image credit: Unsplash

Audience fragmentation

The US Congress is considering a bill that could force TikTok parent ByteDance to divest the app, or could remove it from the country’s app stores.

But in February the administration of US president Joe Biden, who faces a tough re-election contest this year, opened a TikTok account.

One in 10 children aged 12 to 15 say TikTok is their main news source, while 71 percent of 16 to 24-year-olds usd social media instead of or in addition to news websites, according to Ofcom figures.

New apps including TikTok are “rapidly become major players, shifting audience habits but also fragmenting the sources the public use for information”, the MPs’ report said.

‘Balderdash’

It called for more “trusted voices” such as scientists and doctors on such platforms in order to counter widespread misinformation.

“The government must have a clear strategy for communicating with young people and adapting to the development of new apps and platforms which appeal to this audience,” the report said.

In preparing the report, MPs spoke with experts including BBC disinformation editor Rebecca Skippage, who said broadcasters should learn from “the disinformation merchants because they are extremely good at getting people’s attention”.

Financial journalist Martin Lewis said told MPs he began using TikTok to counter the “balderdash” he had encountered on the platform.

‘Missing a trick’

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps is a noted TikTok user, with 20,000 followers, with the channel reportedly being produced by his constituency staff using their devices.

Committee chair Dame Caroline Dinenage said the government should be giving experts a larger role in “the battle to counter misinformation” and is “missing a trick” in not doing so.

The government said it uses a “range of channels” to reach people, “including those which attract younger audiences”.

It said the Online Safety Act would also help address the “root cause” of disinformation by imposing stricter rules on social media platforms.

TikTok endorsed the findings, saying: “We welcome this report’s recommendation that the government should engage with the public on whatever platform they choose to use.”

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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