Researchers from NewsGuard, a journalism and tech tool that tracks online news, searched TikTok and Google this month for information on major news topics such as the 2020 presidential election, the Russian war -Ukrainian and abortion to compare the misinformation provided by their search engines.
TikTok, whose users are mostly teens and young adults, “repeatedly streamed videos containing false claims in the top 20 results, often in the top five,” the report said. “Google, by comparison, delivered higher quality and less polarizing results, with far less misinformation.”
A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the report when contacted by CNN.
The researchers searched for terms like “mRNA vaccine” and “election 2022,” as well as controversial news topics like “the Uvalde tx conspiracy.” They analyzed 540 TikTok results and found that 105 videos, or 19.4%, contained false or misleading claims, according to the report.
According to the report, a search on TikTok for information about politics, including the 2020 presidential election and the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol uprising, often included misinformation as well as references to QAnon conspiracy theories. For example, a search for the question “Was the 2020 election stolen?” produced six videos containing false claims in the top 20 results, NewsGuard found.
NewsGuard researchers also found that TikTok’s search engine “constantly feeds millions of young users with health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.” For example, a search for “does mugwort cause abortion” returns more than a dozen results that advocate unproven herbal abortion methods.
TikTok recently began removing abortion-related videos that violate its policy against medical misinformation, including those that share potentially dangerous advice on how to induce an abortion.
In response to NewsGuard’s report, a TikTok spokesperson told CNN that its community guidelines “make it 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 partner with independent fact checkers who help us assess the accuracy of content.”
TikTok’s ties to China under scrutiny
The NewsGuard report came amid bipartisan concerns in Washington that US user data could reach the Chinese government and be used to undermine US interests due to a national security law in that country that requires companies located there to cooperate with data requests. .
US officials have expressed concern that China could use Americans’ personal information to identify potential useful agents or intelligence targets, or to inform future misinformation or disinformation campaigns.
Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, TikTok chief operating officer Vanessa Pappas refused to commit to cutting off US users’ data flows to China, promising instead that the outcome of her negotiations with the U.S. government “will address all national security concerns”. ”
TikTok does not operate in China, Pappas said, although it does have an office in China. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, whose founder is Chinese and has offices in China.
“I was surprised that TikTok was so much worse even than Google and worse, generally as a platform, than Facebook or Twitter when it came to this stuff,” said Steven Brill, founder of NewsGuard, at CNN.
Brill said the report’s findings are of particular concern because of the company’s ties to China and the ease with which children can access app content.
“We should take this as a warning. If I had kids the age of TikTok, I would definitely want to know what search engine they use,” Brill said. “I’d be pretty upset if they relied on Google too much and wrote school reports based on what they read on Wikipedia. But it goes so much deeper.”