TikTok is no longer just a platform for dance videos and viral trends. Youngsters are using the short form video app as their primary search engine – an honour previously reserved for Google. The New York Times recently reported how TikTok is fast replacing Google as the preferred search engine for Gen Z, but this in itself presents a worrying trend.
A new study by NewsGuard has found that one in five TikTok videos contains some sort of misinformation.
The study analysed the top 20 results that showed up when searching for news topics like "2022 election" and "mRNA vaccine." For the purpose of the study, 27 news topics were analysed.
NewsGuard found that users were “consistently fed false and misleading claims when they search on TikTok for information about prominent news topics.”
For example, if a user searched for "Covid vaccine”, TikTok offered "covid vaccine truths" or "covid vaccine hiv” as suggestions. Similarly, searching for “climate change” returned results for “climate change debunked” and “climate change doesn’t exist.” Around 19.4% of the search results were misleading (105 out of 540 videos analysed), according to the study.
Moreover, the study also found an abundance of potentially dangerous videos going unchecked on the platform. Searching for “hydroxychloroquine” on TikTok, for example, returned at least four results promoting recipes for a do-it-yourself version of hydroxychloroquine.
Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription drug that can be dangerous if not taken as prescribed and should only be produced in a controlled laboratory setting, yet users were provided with DIY videos on how to make it at home.
Also going unchecked on the platform are other potentially dangerous herbal remedies for abortion and methods to induce a miscarriage that have no scientific basis.
These misleading results on TikTok become all the more dangerous when we consider the app’s primary user base – the platform is a favourite among youngsters. Gen Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) is increasingly turning to TikTok for information.Nearly 40% of Gen Z members prefer TikTok for online searches over Google, according to internal data from Google. “In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram,” said Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan at an industry event about two months ago, according to TechCrunch.