While TikTok is no stranger to fighting misinformation, the problem could be worse than you think. As the access point reportsNewsGuard’s trusted internet researchers have published a report claiming that nearly 20 percent of sampled search results for top news topics included misinformation. The false claims covered topics ranging from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to COVID-19 vaccines and the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
NewsGuard also found that writing innocuous queries can lead to suggestions full of misinformation. Start searching for “climate change” and TikTok will offer searches related to climate science denial, for example. The results are also more polarizing than through Google, according to the researchers, with 12 of the top 20 results for the 2022 US midterm elections including highly partisan statements.
We have asked TikTok for feedback. In a statement to NewsGuard, a spokesperson said the social media giant does not allow “harmful misinformation” and removes it from the platform.
TikTok has gone to great lengths to remove misinformation. It removed nearly 350,000 videos related to the 2020 US presidential election by the end of that year, for example. The company uses AI to project videos and automatically pulls flagged clips or sends them to human moderators. The concern, as you might guess, is that this approach doesn’t catch enough criminals, particularly those who avoid using keywords that might alert the AI.
As prominent as the misinformation is, the report comes at a bad time for TikTok. Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas will testify today alongside executives from other companies at a Senate hearing exploring the effects of social media on national security. The findings won’t necessarily surface during the hearing, but they could further pressure TikTok to clamp down on falsehoods.
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