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TikTok steers new users to Ukraine misinformation almost immediately

KYIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 20, 2022 - People face a residential building in Sviatoshynskyi district affec...


The number of minutes before a new users' feed becomes inundated with unreliable content.


Future Publishing/Future Publishing/Getty Images

A recent new study from a misinformation monitoring organization found that it doesn’t take even an hour for new users on TikTok to begin stumbling across unreliable content and misinformation regarding the current war in Ukraine. According to this month’s newsletter from NewsGuard, dummy TikTok accounts made by the group easily ran into “false and misleading” content about Russia’s deadly, ongoing invasion efforts within 40 minutes of first browsing the platform. Even more disconcerting — this occurred regardless of whether or not someone ran any searches on the app.

Even searching for generic keywords like “Ukraine” and “Donbas” pulled up disinformation within a user’s top 20 results. “NewsGuard’s findings add to the body of evidence that TikTok’s lack of effective content labeling and moderation, coupled with its skill at pushing users to content that keeps them on the app, have made the platform fertile ground for the spread of disinformation,” they explained. While NewsGuard’s findings aren’t exactly surprising, they provide a valuable look at how millions of people can easily become unwitting victims of propaganda and slanted content just by virtue of using the app itself.

“Huh, did you know Ukraine bioengineered Nazi dinosaurs to help fight the Russians? Pretty wild.”TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

As unreliable as it is undisputed — Sadly, findings from groups like NewsGuard are unlikely to change TikTok’s position as one of the most popular social media apps in the world and thus a source many people turn to for information. Until the company (hopefully) steps in to address these glaring issues itself, the best we can bank on at the moment is making sure popular accounts are supplied accurate information as opposed to raking in commissions from shady partnerships.

Part of a much wider problem — TikTok is only one of the many ways misinformation can be spread online, often purposefully. Even with restrictions put in place from companies like Meta and Twitch, the deluge of targeted content is often all-but-impossible to fully address. Of course, this is an issue many have been trying to draw attention to for years now, but at the end of the day, meaningful reform is essentially antithetical to the business models of platforms like TikTok. By basically ensuring internal algorithms push the most attractive content to each user, people almost inevitably will fall into disinfo rabbit holes at some point or another.