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Report: TikTok is not a reliable search engine for news

Many people follow the big news of the day using social media, but if you use TikTok to learn about current events, you might want to be more careful with the app’s search results. Research for a new report found that many of the videos featured in these results contained misinformation.

According to the Associated Pressa new research report published on Wednesday found that nearly 20% of TikTok search results for searches on current topics (conducted by the report’s researchers) contained misinformation.

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The report itself was published by NewsGuarda company that tracks online disinformation and assesses the reliability of news sites, and is known for its browser extension of the same name.

The research referenced in the report was conducted by four NewsGuard analysts in the United States who conducted 27 searches across TikTok on various hot topics like abortion, climate change, COVID-19, the 2020 election and Ukraine.

Searches were also conducted on reinstalls of the TikTok app and through a new account for each search to “ensure results were not curated to be affected by previous user activity”. The research also involved comparisons between TikTok search results and Google search results.

TikTok’s Community Guidelines prohibit “harmful misinformation”.

According to NewsGuard’s report, “nearly 20%” of videos found in search results break down as follows: NewsGuard reviewed 540 TikTok results (the top 20 results of 27 hot topics searches). 105 videos (19.4%) in these results were later found to have “false or misleading claims”.

In addition to finding that nearly 20% of videos appearing in search results for “important news topics” contained misinformation, the NewsGuard report also noted the following:

  • NewsGuard noticed that some “paid phrases” were showing as search suggestions in the search bar when a more “neutral” phrase was entered as the search term. Example: Entering “climate change” generated suggested searches for “climate change demystified” and “climate change doesn’t exist”.
  • Health misinformation seems to be another issue on TikTok. NewsGuard mentioned what happened when a search for “mRNA vaccine” was performed: the search “returned five videos containing false claims in the top 10 results – the second, fourth, fifth, sixth and 10th “. By contrast, NewsGuard notes, Google’s search results for that same search offered links to “articles explaining how mRNA vaccines work, from the websites of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mayo.” Clinic, among others. None of the links made any false or misleading claims about COVID-19.
  • Interestingly, NewsGuard also stated that searching for the phrase “mugwort abortion” will not return any search results and instead the app displays a message that the search term may be related. to content that violates its guidelines. But! NewsGuard also found that searching for “does mugwort induce abortion” yields search results, including 13 of the top 20 search results “advocating unproven herbal abortion methods, such as than drinking mugwort tea, eating papaya seeds and ingesting pennyroyal”.

And what is TikTok’s response to all of this? According to the Associated Press and NewsGuard report, TikTok released a statement in response to the report. In the statement, TikTok mentioned that its community guidelines prohibit “harmful misinformation.” The company’s statement included the following quote:

[TikTok’s community guidelines] “Let it be clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform. We partner with credible voices to elevate authoritative content on topics related to public health, and we partner with independent fact checkers who help us assess the accuracy of content.

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