While TikTok is no stranger to fighting misinformation, the problem might be worse than you think. As the AP reports, internet trust researchers at NewsGuard have published a report claiming that almost 20 percent of sampled search results for major news topics included misinformation. The bogus claims covered subjects ranging from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through to COVID-19 vaccines and the January 6th, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
NewsGuard also found that typing innocuous queries can lead to suggestions rife with misinformation. Start looking for “climate change” and TikTok will offer searches related to climate science denial, for instance. The results are also more polarizing than through Google, according to the researchers, with 12 out of the top 20 results for the 2022 US midterms included highly partisan statements.
We’ve asked TikTok for comment. In a statement to NewsGuard, a spokesperson said the social media giant doesn’t allow “harmful misinformation” and pulls it from the platform.
TikTok has made a point of removing misinformation. It took down nearly 350,000 videos related to the 2020 US presidential election by the end of that year, for example. The company uses AI to screen videos, and either pulls flagged clips automatically or sends them to human moderators. The concern, as you might guess, is that this approach doesn’t catch enough offenders — particularly those that avoid using keywords likely to alert the AI.
However prominent misinformation might be, the report comes at a bad time for TikTok. Operations chief Vanessa Pappas is due to testify today alongside other companies’ executives at a Senate hearing exploring social networking’s effects on national security. The findings won’t necessarily come up during the hearing, but they could further pressure TikTok to clamp down on falsehoods.