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German government needs TikTok, Scholz says, as AfD surges in polls

German government needs TikTok, Scholz says, as AfD surges in polls

By Andreas Rinke and Sarah Marsh

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he wants the government to open an account on TikTok, with concerns about the far right AfD’s strong social media presence seemingly trumping security worries about the Chinese-owned platform.

While mainstream politicians and parties are starting to have a low key presence, parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) are already leveraging the platform to connect with younger voters ahead of a slew of communal and state elections this year.

The AfD, which has surged in polls over the last year to second place, has more than twice as many Facebook fans as mainstream parties, according to an analysis by political consultant Johannes Hillje.

It also has around 10 times as many subscribers on video-sharing site YouTube and its videos have been shown 10 times as often on TikTok, he said.

Asked about this disparity at a citizens’ forum on Thursday evening in Dresden, the capital of the eastern state of Saxony, a far-right stronghold, Scholz said the government was considering opening an account on Tiktok.

“And I believe this is right,” he said.

However, Germany’s security agencies have warned against using the video-sharing app over concerns it could share data with China’s government or be used to influence users. Countries including the United States, Britain and Austria last year banned it from government employees’ work phones.

On Friday, a government spokesperson said Berlin still needed to check the situation thoroughly before launching an account, noting members of the federal press office could not access the app on their government phones.

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“But fundamentally Tiktok is a platform that is especially intensely used by young people – and we have to recognise this despite all justified criticisms of the platform,” the spokesperson said.

TikTok says security warnings are unwarranted and it does not collect more information than other apps.

ByteDance, which owns TikTok, has denied using it for spying. Beijing has also repeatedly denied having any intention to use the app for espionage.

Hillje said the AfD’s increased focus on TikTok was likely to be the reason for its improved results with first-time voters in recent state elections, after underperforming with them in the 2021 federal vote.

“Western governments are stuck in a dilemma,” said Hillje, who worked as campaign manager for the Greens in 2014 and is now a freelance consultant, noting that the AfD appealed much more to voters’ emotions on social media despite currently having fewer seats in parliament.

A post from the AfD’s leading European Parliament candidate last year for example appealed to all the young men without girlfriends, saying “real” men were right wing and they should not resort to left of centre parties or pornography.

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation think tank warned in a study last year that TikTok’s algorithm would not reward measured political statements as much as the more extreme ones.


(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Alexander Ratz, Rachel More and Alison Williams)

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