Don’t mind our TikTok: German ministry says its 144K-follower account isn’t ‘for official purposes’

Don’t mind our TikTok: German ministry says its 144K-follower account isn’t ‘for official purposes’
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 01 March 2023 12:35

Germany’s health ministry runs a popular TikTok account even if it restricted the app’s use for its staff.

BERLIN — Riddle us this: How can a ministry ban the TikTok app from its official phones and simultaneously operate an account on the platform with 144,000 followers?

European institutions including the European Commission, Council of the EU and the bloc’s diplomatic service last week told their staff to delete the TikTok app over security concerns. The European Parliament followed suit on Tuesday. Germany — like many other governments across Europe — had already taken similar steps in ordering its ministries’ staff to shun the Chinese-owned video-sharing app on work-related devices.

And yet, the German health ministry currently operates a 144,800-follower-strong TikTok account.

“TikTok is not installed or used for official purposes,” the health ministry told POLITICO when asked for clarification. That’s despite the account being verified and regularly updated with content featuring Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, like a recent video from January 20 titled “Ask your question to Karl Lauterbach directly here in the comments.”

The ministry added “the use is not prohibited” and that it runs the TikTok account with multiple phones that aren’t connected to the ministry’s servers.

TikTok can’t be installed on the ministry’s phones, said Sebastian Gülde, spokesperson for the health ministry, during a press conference this week. He couldn’t explain how the ministry operates the account. Even after repeated inquiries, the ministry remained vague about its operations.

The health ministry launched its TikTok campaign in March 2020 to combat COVID-19 misinformation. At that time, other German ministries had already started restricting the use of the popular social media platform. In the interior ministry, the video-sharing app cannot be accessed through the network, while the “installation on the official smartphones is technically prevented” as much as possible, the ministry told POLITICO. The defense ministry banned the app in April 2020, while other ministries, such as the justice and economics ministries, said they restrict the installation of TikTok.

The ministries said their decisions took into account a recommendation by Germany’s cybersecurity agency, the Federal Information Security Office (BSI).

“There is … a certain set of apps that we can install on a work phone, and TikTok is not one of them,” said deputy government spokesperson Wolfgang Büchner about the Federal Press Office, which runs the government’s social media accounts.

When it comes to using the app to reach the wider public, Büchner said that “so far, we have decided not to have our own presence on TikTok.”

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