About one in five videos automatically suggested on TikTokcontains misinformation, according to a new report from NewsGuard. Search results on pressing and consequential topics — including vaccines, abortion, climate change, school shootings, the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 insurrection and the war in Ukraine — are littered with misleading videos on the popular social media platform, NewsGuard researchers say. TikTok is one of the most popular domains in the world, especially among young people.
NewsGuard analyzed 540 TikTok search results, out of which they found 105 videos “contained false or misleading claims.” They also found that when users entered neutral phrases, like “climate change,” the platform suggested searches for false statements like “climate change doesn’t exist.”
Discuss: Do you use TikTok? If yes, what kind of videos do you watch on the platform? How often do you see TikTok videos about current issues and events? How can you tell whether a video is factual or not? Have you ever reported a video for misinformation on TikTok? Do you think strategies like user reports and AI technology are effective at filtering misinformation on social media?
Idea: In small groups, have students search a trending news topic on TikTok. Ask them to record the searches TikTok suggests as they type in their topic. Next, ask students to view the top five videos in their results and evaluate the credibility of each: Is the video factually accurate? Inaccurate? Are they unsure? Finally, have student groups discuss their observations and share ideas about how to verify TikTok content.
Dig Deeper: Use this think sheet to explore how TikTok's search results yield misleading information.
In preparation for the upcoming midterm election, four major social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok — will return to familiar playbooks to combat misinformation. The platforms are planning to label election falsehoods, and all but one say they’ll remove select types of election disinformation along with threats of violence. Twitter and TikTok have also banned political ads. But experts caution these efforts are not enough to curb the spread of misinformation.
Social media isn’t the only place rife with election disinformation. There’s also a lack of oversight and accountability over text messages and political misinformation blasted directly to cellphones.
It’s been 130 years since a formerly enslaved man borrowed $200 to launch The Afro-American newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland. Commonly referred to as The Afro, the award-winning paper recently marked its anniversary and describes itself as a source of “good news about the Black community not otherwise found.”
Idea: Have students examine the news coverage featured on afro.com. What kind of stories do they see? How might those stories be of interest to the news publication’s audience? What distinguishes this outlet’s coverage from more mainstream news sources?
Another idea: Ask students to use this map to explore media outlets across the United States that primarily serve Black communities.
NewsLit takeaway: Impostor content is often designed to launder faulty ideas through a credible source. Using a fabricated CNN headline to push this falsehood accomplishes two things: It lends credibility to a demonstrably false claim for those who are inclined to believe it, and it impugns CNN’s reputation and credibility for those who aren’t.
Remember: While weather changes from one season to the next, the impacts of climate change can be felt throughout the year. Conflating weather with climate is a common strategy used to minimize the magnitude of climate change. Recognizing this distinction makes us all less susceptible to climate change misinformation.
NO: This is not a genuine message from Trump about being knighted in private by the queen. NO: This message was never posted to Trump’s account on Truth Social, the former president’s social media platform. YES: This is a fabricated Truth Social post that went viral on Twitter.
NewsLit takeaway: Be skeptical of alleged social media messages that only circulate in image form as screenshots. A plethora of online tools make fabricating images of social media messages rather easy. While these doctored pieces of impostor content can appear convincing, one big red flag gives these messages away as fakes: They do not have URLs connected to the social media profile of the subject (in this case, Trump) and many of these alleged posts have the same number of likes and shares.
NO: This infographic was not created or promoted by the World Economic Forum. YES: A spokesperson for WEF told fact-checkers at the Associated Press that “this is fake and completely made up.”
NewsLit takeaway: Satirical content online is often mistaken as genuine — and in some cases, can ignite harmful conspiracy theories. Fact-checkers from USA Today found that this bogus infographic was likely created with humorous intent as it contained unreasonable and obviously false assertions, but it also connects to long-standing conspiratorial ideas about a "global agenda" to deliberately create food shortages. This ignited its spread among conspiracy theory communities. Misinformation often contains a grain of truth, and in this instance an opinion piece on WEF’s website truly suggested diets could change as the global population grows and the farming industry shifts to more sustainable methods. The infographic exaggerated these points (artificial meat became “upcycled citizens” and the possible addition of insects became “micro livestock”). Then it was further amplified by those who credulously shared it online. These dots — an opinion piece on a potential change in global diets and a claim that global organizations will force people to eat “upcycled citizens” — do not connect.
You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
“Racism is disinformation.” This Mother Jones piece examines how bots impersonating Black people to sow political division on social media can lead to the dismissal and silencing of real Black people online.