Australia has become the first country to run a TikTok pilot for gambling promotion. But the platform insists these new ads will not be seen by underage users and are not totally at odds with its advertisement policy, which forbids gambling.
Under the pilot, TikTok will only surface the ads of one sports betting company—Sportsbet—under the guise of b-rate, user-generated skits, and satirical commentary, in most cases pegged to Australian racing culture.
In four ads on the platform via an account created by VICE without age verification enabled, just two were labeled sponsored content. At the same time, all withheld the “gamble responsibly” tagline required of gambling advertisers under Australian law.
The platform’s embrace of Sportsbet emerges as a significant u-turn for TikTok, which up until now has swatted away attempts by the gambling industry to advertise its products directly to an audience of millions of Australian users, close to a third of whom are thought to be under the age of 15 years old.
As it stands, TikTok’s advertising policy still rules out the “promotion, sale, solicitation of, or facilitation” of “gambling” and “sports betting,” along with offering businesses engaged with those kinds of products click-through services.
Here’s the whole language, per the TikTok advertising policy available on the platform’s business help center:
- – Promotion, sale, solicitation of, or facilitation of access to casinos, gambling activities, sports betting, fantasy sports, and lotteries, whether an online website or a physical establishment, where there is money cashing in or cashing out.
- – Promotion, sale, solicitation of, or facilitation of access to:
>Free credits, vouchers, and coupons, including printed or digital codes, for use in casinos and gambling games.
- >Websites, software, products, or services that facilitate or drive traffic to casinos and gambling games or their related content, including odds calculator, tips and tricks, rules and strategies, hot picks, or forecasts.
- >Games of luck or chance, such as scratch-off games, bingo, or other similar games or apps, could result in monetary or valuable prize gain.
- >Tools, instruments, devices, props, or other accessories or supplies, for use in casinos and gambling games.
According to TikTok, the trial will be controlled to try and ensure that users have a “safe experience.” So far, the only protective guardrails installed by the platform are vague artificial intelligence sequences that surface the ads on the feeds of users who say they are older than 21 years old. TikTok has been contacted for comment.
More recent estimates suggest the platform has an Australian user base of 7.4 million users over 18. At the same time, ABC News on Monday reported that there could be that many users under the age of 18 alone.
“So this whole question of platforms gating content for users under a certain age is a little messy,” Sarah said.
TikTok, the third-largest social media platform in Australia by user base, won’t be alone trying to figure it out.