Report Reveals that TikTok Search Results are filled with Misinformation

According to a research report published on Wednesday, anyone using Tiktok to learn about topics such as climate change, the Russian invasion of Ukraine or COVID-19 is likely to encounter misleading or incorrect information.

The researchers at NewsGuard found that almost 1 in 5 videos on the social media platform contained inaccurate information. For example, searches about the ‘mRNA vaccine’ yielded 5 videos with incorrect claims that the vaccine causes ‘permanent damage in children’s critical organs.’

Information about climate change, abortion, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the 2020 election, or the Russian-Ukraine war on Tiktok were similarly misleading.

The amount of incorrect information and the ease of finding it amidst Tiktok’s ever-growing popularity with youths is troubling, according to Steven Brill, Newsguard founder, a firm monitoring misinformation.

According to security and online performance company Cloudflare, Tiktok is currently the second most popular site in the world, second only to Google.

Brill questioned the actions of ByteDance, the Chinese owners of Tiktok, in stopping the misinformation, or whether the misinformation was intentional in order to sow confusion and ignorance in Western democracies.

‘It’s either incompetence or it’s something worse,’ Brill said.

In response to NewsGuard’s report, Tiktok released a statement saying that its community guidelines prohibit harmful misinformation, and it is taking steps to promote accurate information about important topics like COVID-19.

‘We do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform,’ Tiktok said.

Tiktok also says it has taken other steps that are intended to direct users to trustworthy sources. For example, it created an election center to help voters in the U.S. find information about candidates or their voting centers.

In the first quarter of 2022, Tiktok removed over 102 million videos which violated its guidelines. Yet, only a small number of those did not adhere to the guidelines against misinformation.

The researchers found that Tiktok’s search tool almost seems to intentionally direct users to false information in some cases. When they typed in ‘COVID vaccine’, the tool suggested searches on keywords like ‘COVID vaccine injury’ or ‘COVID vaccine exposed’.

When the same search was run on Google however, it suggested searches on more accurate information about the kinds of vaccines, the booster shots and the vaccine clinics.

The rise of Tiktok’s popularity has caught the eye of federal lawmakers and state officials who have expressed concerns about its data security and privacy.

On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the impact of social media on the security of the nation. The chief operating officer of Tiktok, Vanessa Pappas, will testify alongside representatives from Meta, Twitter, and YouTube.

By Marvellous Iwendi.

Source: ABC News