TikTok, one of the world’s fastest-growing social media platforms, is expanding Down Under, advertising more than 20 full-time positions to help “grow and foster Australian content”.
The Chinese social media giant, which is under the scrutiny of world leaders over information and privacy concerns, has offices across Asia, the Americas and Europe and is now “building” its team in Sydney.
The platform, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is looking to fill new roles in marketing, advertising and growth strategy to build partnerships with “public figures, media agencies and broadcasters”.
A TikTok spokeswoman told ABC News the company was looking to grow operations locally and scale at a “rapid pace”.
“This includes hiring the right local talent to support the Australian TikTok community across the content, operations and commercial side of the business,” she said.
“We are also investing further in our local users, creators and brands.
“We see huge opportunities to further scale at a rapid pace in Australia and this continues to be a priority market.”
Australian Vanessa Pappas was recently announced as the company’s interim CEO, based in the United States, after the departure of Kevin Mayer who spent just a few months in the role.
But world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, have criticised TikTok and even threatened to ban it over concerns that user data could be accessed by Chinese authorities.
The company stresses Australian user data is stored in the US and Singapore and has outlined efforts to “minimise data access across regions”.
The platform was launched across 2017-2018 as a spin-off from its Chinese genesis Douyin, rising to prominence based on short user-generated videos.
In 2018, ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming issued a public letter of apology over another of his platforms, admitting “technology must be guided by core socialist values”.
TikTok under spotlight for links to Chinese Government
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently urged Australian users to be aware their data was likely being collected — but stopped short of indicating a ban.
Katherine Mansted, a senior adviser for public policy at the Australian National University’s National Security College, said Tik Tok was unlikely to be scaled back, but other measures could help keep it accountable.
“The notion of banning is a pretty blunt-force instrument — there are ways to deal with the concerns coming out of social media, short of a ban,” she said.
“One of those, for instance, would be stronger data-protection laws and stronger laws around making algorithms that content-moderate, [and make it] more open, more transparent and more contestable.
Ms Mansted said these regulations should apply to all social media across the board.
“TikTok is successful because it’s image-based, it’s video-based and we are human and that gets us going, and that’s incredibly valuable for a propagandist as well.”
Facial data one of many concerns
Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Samantha Hoffman said average Australian users needed to know how much information was at risk.
“It’s not about a video that you’re going to put up on TikTok of you dancing that’s going to be a target, rather it’s things like your facial data or your sentiment data about how you or other members of your society think and how you can be influenced,” she said.
“It’s not about the average person being targeted for intelligence purposes that I’m worried about and others should be worried about, it’s more about how pieces of information about you and the society that you live in are collected.
“Society doesn’t have a great understanding or space in their day to really understand or care about their privacy issues that come along with any tech.
“You look at something like the Cambridge Analytica scandal — that should have a lot of people concerned a lot more about privacy than it does.
“I think that governments and other actors in society need to do a better job at articulating that threat.”
Victims of Holocaust, 9/11 and school shootings mimicked
In recent weeks Tik Tok was criticised after the emergence of a “victims trend” where users roleplayed the perspective of those who died in the Holocaust, 9/11 terrorist attack, school shootings, infamous murders and even the Great Depression.
It prompted the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum, to issue a statement on Twitter labelling the videos “hurtful and offensive”.
“Some videos are dangerously close or already beyond the border of trivialisation of history,” the Tweet said.
“But we should discuss this not to shame & attack young people whose motivation seem very diverse.
“It’s an educational challenge.”