Generation Z relies on Tiktok as a search engine to get informed, the risk they are faced with, is that the results put forward are far from being reliable and factual, or even completely biased. According to new NewsGuard research, false information is circulating at alarming levels on the application.
Earlier this month, NewsGuard, a journalism and technology tool that tracks online information, searched TikTok and Google for information on a variety of news topics, including the 2020 presidential election, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Covid vaccines. Researchers determined that 20% of the videos obtained during the search contained false or misleading information. While Google, by comparison, provided higher-quality and less-polarizing results, with far less misinformation.
NewsGuard analyzed 540 TikTok results, based on reviewing the top 20 results from 27 searches on news topics. Of the search results, NewsGuard found that 105 videos — 19.4 percent — contained false or misleading claims. These search terms included neutral phrases, such as “2022 election” and “mRNA vaccine,” as well as searches that might be used to learn more about controversial news topics, such as “January 6 FBI” and “Uvalde tx conspiracy.” Many of these charged phrases were suggested by TikTok’s search bar when NewsGuard typed in the neutral phrases.
For example, when a user enters the term “climate change,” TikTok suggests searches for “climate change debunked” and “climate change doesn’t exist.” For a user who searches for “covid vaccine,” TikTok suggests a search for “covid vaccine injury,” “covid vaccine truths,” “covid vaccine exposed,” “covid vaccine hiv,” and “covid vaccine warning.” A search for “Jan 6” yields suggestions for videos proclaiming “Jan 6 footage being let in” and “Jan 6 antifa,” among others.
NewsGuard researchers found that TikTok’s search engine “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.” For instance, a search for “does mugwort induce abortion” receives over a dozen results that advocate for unproven herbal abortion methods. The study also highlights a viral Tiktok video in which a young woman reveals her recipe for a “cure-all”, hydroxychloroquine, a controversial treatment that has proven ineffective against Covid.
This is particularly dangerous because Google research suggests that TikTok is increasingly used by Generation Z to find information. In 2021, TikTok surpassed Google as the most popular website in the world, according to Cloudflare.
TikTok has recently sought to advertise itself as a learning platform, as data shows declining social media use among young people. In June, TikTok launched an ad campaign around the hashtag #TikTokTaughtMe, claiming “there is no limit to the knowledge that can be discovered on TikTok.”
USER DATA IS A CONCERN AS TIKTOK’S TIES TO CHINA COME UNDER SCRUTINY
Another alarming risk is Tiktok’s ties to China. Unlike other large digital social media platforms, TikTok’s owner is a Chinese entity regulated by the Chinese Communist Party, which censors or suppresses content it considers to be against the interests of the ruling party and encourages what it considers to be narratives helpful to the government, including spreading false or divisive information targeted to people in democracies. It’s impossible to know all the categories of content being suppressed or promoted for propaganda purposes because the political inputs into the TikTok algorithm and content-moderation policies are not disclosed.
The NewsGuard report was released amid bipartisan concerns in Washington that U.S. user data could reach the Chinese government and be used to harm U.S. interests, due to a national security law in that country that requires companies operating there to cooperate with data requests.
U.S. officials have expressed concern that China could use Americans’ personal information to identify useful potential agents or intelligence targets or to fuel future disinformation campaigns.
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