Report Expresses Concerns with ‘Misinformation’ When Using TikTok Search

“Google, by comparison, provided higher-quality and less-polarizing results, with far less misinformation,” says NewsGuard.
Image: Solen Feyissa via Unsplash

According to a recent report in The New York Times, Gen Z users are gravitating to TikTok over Google as their primary search engine of choice. This could be cause for concern based on a new study by misinformation monitoring organization NewsGuard which “found that for a sampling of searches on prominent news topics, almost 20 percent of the videos presented as search results contained misinformation.”

The study is based on an analysis of the top 20 search results across 27 different news topics. “These search terms included neutral phrases, such as “2022 election” and “mRNA vaccine,” as well as searches that might be used to learn more about controversial news topics, such as “January 6 FBI” and “Uvalde tx conspiracy,” NewsGuard said in a blog post about the research titled “Beware the ‘New Google:’ TikTok’s Search Engine Pumps Toxic Misinformation To Its Young Users.”

“This means that for searches on topics ranging from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to school shootings and COVID vaccines, TikTok’s users are consistently fed false and misleading claims,” they added.

 
 

According to NewsGuard’s findings, Google suggested search terms that were more “straightforward,” citing the following examples that “searching ‘covid vaccine’ on Google prompted ‘walk-in covid vaccine,’ ‘which covid vaccine is best,’ and ‘types of covid vaccines.’ None of these terms was suggested by TikTok.”

They added that TikTok “repeatedly delivered videos containing false claims in the first 20 results, often within the first five. Google, by comparison, provided higher-quality and less-polarizing results, with far less misinformation.”

Regarding the 2020 US presidential election and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, results “often yielded false and misleading claims in TikTok’s top results, including references to conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon,” said NewsGuard.

 
 

For example, said the report, the first result in a search for the phrase “Was the 2020 election stolen?” was a July 2022 video with the text “The Election Was Stolen!”

NewsGuard research found that even when TikTok’s search results yielded little to no misinformation, the search results were often more polarizing than Google’s.

“For example, 12 out of the top 20 search results for “2022 midterm” contained hyper-partisan, left-leaning rhetoric. The caption of one video presented as a search result referred to 2022 Georgia Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker as a “vegetable,” while a person in another video proclaimed all Republicans to be “mother*uckers.”

In the case of abortion, NewsGuard found that searches on TikTok “often featured false and potentially dangerous results.”

In July of this year, the organization published a special report showing that following the Supreme Court’s June 25, 2022, decision that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, TikTok “became rife with videos about unsafe and unproven abortion techniques, such as drinking mugwort tea and consuming large doses of vitamin C.”

CNN reports that TikTok removed more than 102 million videos in early 2022 for violating its guidelines, according to its Community Guidelines Enforcement Report.

The Staff

The Staff

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