Observation of Information Manipulations against TikTok Ban

Executive Summary

The digital realm has witnessed TikTok’s rapid ascension, captivating a global audience with its vibrant content and advanced algorithms. Yet, this rise has been shadowed by significant controversies, especially regarding debates in the United States over a potential TikTok ban, fueled by concerns over national security, data privacy, and the spread of misinformation. This contentious issue has sparked extensive discussions among lawmakers, technology experts, and digital communities, uncovering a complex web of digital manipulation and misinformation. From January 1 to March 25, 2024, an in-depth analysis recorded the involvement of 9,080 troll accounts in these debates, accounting for 11.73% of the total dialogue, thus underscoring the significant impact of troll-driven narratives on shaping public discourse.

This conversation spans three critical incidents: legislative efforts to restrict minors’ access to social media, the Biden campaign’s strategic engagement with TikTok, and debates surrounding the enactment of H.R. 7521. Each of these scenarios has ignited varied online reactions, with a notable share of the conversation being influenced by troll accounts. For instance, the initiative in Florida to limit social media access for minors saw 12.25% of its discussion driven by troll accounts, highlighting debates on the balance between individual rights and governmental authority. The discourse concerning the Biden campaign’s use of TikTok and the legislative debates on H.R. 7521 further delve into issues of free speech, privacy, and governmental oversight, along with critiques of political leadership and representation. Trolls have extended their reach to manipulate discussions on a broad array of events, from global conflicts to international diplomacy these includes: International conflicts within European Union countries, notably Germany, Lithuania, and Sweden; the arrest of a Japanese crime boss involved in an attempt to smuggle nuclear materials to Iran; the Israel-Hamas conflict; the Ukrainian-Russian War; issues pertaining to China’s international diplomacy and geopolitical strategies, each aiming to influence public opinion and policy.

The narrative varies across different platforms—Twitter, YouTube, Weibo, and TikTok—with observed lower manipulation activity on Facebook. Discussions on Twitter often revolve around political dissatisfaction and concerns over privacy and national security, while YouTube critiques focus on U.S. leadership and TikTok’s content moderation practices. Weibo users tend to criticize U.S. policies, portraying them as bullying, whereas TikTok discussions emphasize speech restrictions and systemic critiques. These discussions often serve to challenge authority, question leadership, mobilize youth opposition, and notably, accuse the U.S. of violating First Amendment rights.

A comparison of narratives on American versus Chinese-owned social platforms reveals distinct focuses. Chinese platforms tend to argue that the U.S. approach to banning TikTok differs from that of other Western countries, suggesting that such a ban does not reflect the will of the American people and often pointing out that U.S. companies engage in more surveillance of their citizens than TikTok.

Furthermore, the analysis highlights a deliberate effort by troll accounts to echo narratives promoted by Chinese state-affiliated media, aiming to critique U.S. policies on free speech through the lens of the TikTok ban debate. By aligning with the viewpoints of outlets like Guangming Daily and Takungpao, these accounts play a pivotal role in spreading narratives that accuse the U.S. of hypocrisy regarding free speech and censorship, attempting to sway public opinion in favor of allowing TikTok to operate freely in the U.S. This concerted action underlines the strategic use of digital platforms in the broader geopolitical struggle, emphasizing the power of narrative in shaping the discourse on digital governance and international relations.


In the past few years, the digital arena has seen the explosive growth of TikTok, a platform that has enchanted millions with its compelling content and cutting-edge algorithms. Yet, this surge in popularity is intertwined with significant controversy. Central to the discord is the ongoing debate over the potential prohibition of TikTok in the United States, driven by apprehensions regarding national security, data privacy, and the proliferation of false information. This matter has ignited intense discussions among both policymakers and tech experts, drawing widespread attention across online communities. Amidst this chaos, thorough research has uncovered a complex environment where digital manipulation and misinformation thrive, revealing the intricate challenges at the heart of modern digital discourse.