New TikTok users exposed to fake news about Russia-Ukraine war, study reveals

New TikTok users are exposed to misinformation about the war in Ukraine within 40 minutes of signing up, according to a new report.

The study, published by the fact-checking group NewsGuard, found that new users searching for information about the conflict, “led to TikTok suggesting multiple videos that contained disinformation in its top 20 results”.

The experiment was conducted by six NewsGuard analysts in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US, who scrolled through the social media platform’s ‘For You’ page and watched any Russia-Ukraine related videos in full.

“Toward the end of the 45–minute experiment, analysts’ feeds were almost exclusively populated with both accurate and false content related to the war in Ukraine — with no distinction made between disinformation and reliable sources,” the report read.

One misleading video — which has amassed over 3 million views on TikTok — purportedly shows Ukrainian armed forces storming the streets of Mariupol.

The video was first posted in 2014 during a crisis involving pro-Russian separatists.

Other popular examples include videos of the so-called “Ghost of Kyiv”, who was said to have single-handedly brought down six Russian planes at the beginning of the invasion.

This has since been debunked by fact-checkers, who revealed that the footage actually came from the videogame “Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) World”.

NewsGuard also said that “some of the myths in the videos TikTok’s algorithm fed to analysts have previously been identified as Kremlin propaganda”.

In response, TikTok said that the experiment did “not mimic standard viewing behaviour”.

“While this experiment does not mimic standard viewing behaviour, we continue to respond to the war in Ukraine with increased safety and security resources as we work to remove harmful misinformation and help protect a safe experience on TikTok”.

They added that the company partners with independent fact-checking organisations to ensure that TikTok remains a “safe and authentic place.”

TikTok surpassed Facebook in 2021 to become the first non-Meta owned app to host more than one billion monthly users.

Chine Labbe, Managing Editor at NewsGuard, told Euronews that the age of Tiktok’s users means the spread of misinformation is “very troubling”.

“When you use TikTok, you scroll down and scroll down and see an endless stream of videos,” Labbe said.

“Think about a teenager watching a video of Putin speaking without any context or misleading videos about the war … this is very problematic,” she added.

“We know a lot of young people rely only on TikTok for their information.”