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Climate change, politics to Ukraine, TikTok search results abound with misinformation: report

TikTok is providing misinformation to users seeking news about politics, climate change, Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and more, according to a report released Wednesday.

According to a study by NewsGuard, a media watchdog, toxicity and false claims pose a “significant threat” to TikTok, which is becoming an online place for young people to search for information.

NewsGuard describes itself as a “journalism and technology tool” that assesses the credibility of websites and online information.

“Even when TikTok’s search results yielded little to no misinformation, the results were often more polarizing than Google’s,” NewsGuard said of its findings.

NewsGuard analyzed the top 20 results of 27 TikTok searches on news topics in September and found that 19.5 percent of the suggested videos contained false or misleading claims, the report said.

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

False or misleading claims in the results include conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon and alleged homemade prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug used to treat malaria and lupus, according to NewsGuard.

TikTok says the methodology used in the analysis is flawed and it is a priority to fight misinformation.

“Our Community Guidelines make it 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 investigation.

“We partner with credible voices to take authoritative content on public health topics to the next level, and partner with independent fact-checkers to help us assess content accuracy.”

Testifying at a Senate hearing on Wednesday about the impact of social media on national security, Alex Roetter, Twitter’s former senior vice president of engineering, said the Chinese government is an investor in TikTok parent company Bytedance, and that it has incentives to maximize profits and user engagement.

“The TikTok algorithm is pushing Chinese youth on educational science, engineering and math content while sending a feed of twerking videos, misinformation and other destructive content to American children,” Roetter told the senators.

Social media companies can take advantage of standout content online, despite harmful effects on society, Roetter said in his opening remarks.

“Our terms of service and community guidelines are designed to ensure our vision of a safe and authentic experience,” TikTok CEO Vanessa Pappas said during the hearing.

“Our policy has zero tolerance for disinformation, violent extremism and hateful behavior.”

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