TikTok search results 'rife with misinformation'

Media watchdog NewsGuard found that 19.5 per cent of the videos suggested on TikTok contained false or misleading claims. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO - TikTok is serving up misinformation to users searching for news about politics, climate change, Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and more, according to a report released Wednesday.

Toxicity and false claims are a "significant threat" at TikTok, which is becoming a go-to online venue for young people to search for information, according to a study by NewsGuard, a media watchdog.

NewsGuard describes itself as a "journalism and technology tool" that rates the credibility of websites and online information.

"Even when TikTok's search results yielded little to no misinformation, the results were often more polarising than Google's," NewsGuard said of its findings.

NewsGuard in September analysed the top 20 results from 27 TikTok searches on news topics, finding that 19.5 per cent of the videos suggested contained false or misleading claims.

Researchers said they compared TikTok and Google results from searches for information about school shootings, abortion, Covid-19, US elections, Russia's war in Ukraine and other news.

False or misleading claims in results included conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon and supposed home recipes for hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug used to treat malaria and lupus.

TikTok says the methodology used in the analysis is flawed, and that it prioritises fighting misinformation.

"Our community guidelines make clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform," a TikTok spokesperson said in response to an AFP inquiry.

"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," she said.

While testifying Wednesday at a Senate hearing on social media's impact on national security, Twitter's former senior vice-president of engineering Alex Roetter said the Chinese government is an investor in TikTok parent company Bytedance, and that it has incentives to maximise profit and user engagement.

"The TikTok algorithm pushes educational science, engineering and math content on Chinese youth while pushing a feed containing twerking videos, misinformation and other destructive content to US children," Mr Roetter told senators.

Social media companies stand to benefit from attention-grabbing online content despite harmful effects it may have on society, he said. AFP

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