Young people who want to satisfy their curiosity are increasingly using TikTok as a search engine alternative since the addicting video-sharing app is full of everything from fried chicken recipes to in-depth looks into the history of music. If all you’re looking for is a lunch spot or movie recommendations, then this is usually OK. Unfortunately, according to recent NewsGuard study, TikTok also contains an alarming amount of false material regarding important subjects.
When researching significant news topics in September, the fact-checking organisation discovered false material in over 20% of the videos that the app’s search engine surfaced. In this inquiry, 540 TikTok videos were examined, and it was discovered that 105 of them had “false or misleading assertions.”
“This implies that TikTok’s users are routinely supplied inaccurate and misleading claims for searches on topics ranging from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to school shootings and COVID vaccines,” stated NewsGuard.
While the four U.S.-based analysts who participated in this study employed both neutral and more conspiracy-laden search phrases, TikTok frequently suggested contentious terms, according to NewsGuard’s report. When you type “climate change,” the app might advise that you search “climate change doesn’t exist,” and when you search “COVID vaccination,” it might propose that you add the word “exposed” to the end.
When searching for the latter word, our test from an existing Australian account only turned up harmless terms like “receiving my COVID vaccine,” but when we typed in “climate change,” TikTok suggested the search term “climate change is a lie.”
A TikTok representative told Mashable in a statement: “Our Community Guidelines make clear that we do not tolerate harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform.” “We collaborate with reputable voices to elevate authoritative content on public health-related themes, and we collaborate with independent fact-checkers who help us assess the veracity of content.”
For disseminating “election misinformation, disinformation, or manipulated media,” TikTok banned over 340,000 videos in the U.S., according to a prior transparency report covering the final half of 2020. Additionally, over 50,000 films that promoted COVID-19 misinformation were also removed.
It is already very risky to spread false information about the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the Uvalde school shooting. Significant health misinformation was also discovered, according to NewsGuard’s research, which may have an even more immediate harmful effect.
In particular, the study discovered numerous TikTok videos endorsing bogus COVID treatments and homemade remedies meant to cause abortions. These alleged treatments may, at best, have no impact at all. At worst, they could be deliberately detrimental to an individual’s health.
This is especially troubling because in the United States, safe abortion access is no longer legally protected, leaving desperate people open to this perilous disinformation.
Although a TikTok representative informed NewsGuard in July 2022 that videos encouraging herbal abortions violated the site’s community guidelines and would be taken down, NewsGuard discovered that two months later, herbal abortion content is still readily available on the platform.
While some of the techniques touted on TikTok may not be fatal, others have the potential to cause major injury. Numerous medical professionals have advised news organisations that using herbs to induce labour is dangerous.
People frequently share ideas and produce material on TikTok, some of which can be in fact be informative. But you should always confirm your facts with more trustworthy sources, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like politics or health. After all, almost everyone can create a TikTok.