TikTok’s strict data rules stifle research, raising concerns among academics

While the platform has signaled its willingness to cooperate with researchers, its terms of service, involving prerequisites like advanced notification, pre-publication oversight, and data erasure, have left scholars disheartened.

Number, Symbol, Text, TikTok Shop

As TikTok’s popularity soars, academics from leading institutions face significant hurdles in studying user behaviour on the platform due to the platform’s stringent data rules. While TikTok has expressed willingness to collaborate with researchers, its terms of service, including the need for advance notice, pre-publication review, and data deletion, are causing frustration among academics.

This challenge comes when other social media platforms are also restricting data access and introducing charges for API usage, raising concerns about the future of social media research. Researchers stress the importance of gaining access to TikTok to better understand its impact on critical issues such as elections and public health while hoping for more open data policies from TikTok and its peers.

Why does it matter?

Social media companies’ relationships with researchers have grown increasingly strained. Twitter, now known as X, started charging for API access in February, leading to substantial research costs. In June, Reddit followed suit, resulting in protests. In July, X sued a research organisation, raising concerns that other platforms may adopt similar practices.