TikTok’s high speed rise from place video-sharing app to global social media behemoth has brought plenty of scrutiny, particularly over its links to China.
Researchers at NewsGuard, a journalism and technology tool that tracks online information, searched TikTok and Google this month for information on major news topics such as the 2020 presidential election, the Russia-Ukraine war and abortion to compare the misinformation delivered by their search engines.
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TikTok, whose users are predominantly teenagers and young adults, “repeatedly delivered videos containing false claims in the first 20 results, often within the first five,” the report states. “Google, by comparison, provided higher-quality and less-polarizing results, with far less misinformation.”
A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the report when contacted.
The researchers searched terms such as “mRNA vaccine” and “2022 election,” as well as controversial news topics like “Uvalde tx conspiracy.”
They analyzed 540 TikTok results and found that 105 videos, or 19.4%, contained false or misleading claims, the report says.
According to the report, a search on TikTok for information about politics, including the 2020 presidential election and the January 6, 2021, US Capitol insurrection, often included misinformation as well as references to QAnon conspiracy theories.
For example, a search for the question “Was the 2020 election stolen?” yielded six videos that contained false claims in the first 20 results, NewsGuard found.
NewsGuard researchers also 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.
TikTok recently began removing abortion-related videos that violate its policy against medical misinformation, including those that share potentially dangerous advice about how to self-induce an abortion.
In response to the NewsGuard report, a TikTok spokesperson said that its community guidelines make clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform.
We partner with credible voices to elevate authoritative content on topics related to public health, and partner with independent fact-checkers who help us to assess the accuracy of content.”