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TikTok could face fines over political ads during local and European elections

Social media platform is the subject of a complaint to the media regulator that it breached the EU Digital Services Act

TikTok denies the complaints and says it does not run political ads, and therefore is not covered by the EU’s code of conduct. Photograph: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty

Social media giant TikTok could face millions of euros in fines if a complaint about political ads on the platform during the recent election campaign is upheld.

The social media platform, which claims more than two million users in Ireland, has been the subject of a complaint to Coimisiún na Meán, the new media regulator.

If the complaint – which alleges that TikTok breached specific articles of the EU Digital Services Act – is upheld the company could be hit with substantial fines.

According to Coimisiún na Meán, “breaches of the DSA can lead to fines of up to 6 per cent of a company’s global annual turnover” – an amount potentially reaching into hundreds of millions of euros.


TikTok denies all the complaints.

The complaint has been lodged by Liz Carolan, a digital transparency campaigner and publisher of, a newsletter about technology and politics.

She says that the treatment of politics ads that have run on TikTok during the campaign breaches specific articles of the EU Digital Services Act.

TikTok says that it does not run political ads, and therefore is not covered by the EU’s code of conduct, to which it has signed up and which next year will substantially become law.

However, an investigation by Ms Carolan, published recently on and in The Irish Times, showed that the company was in fact accepting and publishing political ads. It subsequently removed ads when they were brought to its attention, and continues to insist that it does not publish political ads.

According to the complaint, TikTok failed to enforce their commitment in their terms and conditions to ban political ads and also failed to label political ads, and failed to build mechanisms to allow for discovery of paid political content on their platform.

The platform also failed to build any transparency mechanism to allow for scrutiny of paid political ads, the complaint says.

TikTok denies all the allegations. A spokesperson said that the company complies with all current EU laws and regulations on political advertising, and is committed to complying with all future regulations in this area. The spokesperson insisted that the complaint was based on a number of factual inaccuracies about TikTok’s treatment of political ads.

The spokesperson said that the company’s advertising policies prohibit advertisers from submitting political ads to the platform, and when breaches of the policy were identified, ads were removed.

The commission said that it “does not publicly comment on individual queries or complaints.”

However, a spokesperson added: “Our contact centre can receive complaints from members of the public about possible breaches of the EU Digital Services Act (DSA). The contact centre triages all queries and escalates potentially valid complaints to our complaints team. The complaints team further assesses the complaint.

Where necessary, a complaint is passed on to one of our platform supervision teams for resolution with the platform concerned, or passed to our investigation team for possible enforcement action. Breaches of the DSA can lead to fines of up to 6 per cent of a company’s global annual turnover.”

“I was able to make this complaint as a citizen under new rights that we all have under the Digital Services Act,” Ms Carolan told The Irish Times.

“This is a brand new mechanism, and I look forward to seeing how this feeds into accountability for big tech platforms in their responsibilities to our democracy in Ireland.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times