Chinese-owned video app deals with floods of war videos, and whether it is spreading unverified info.
Bre Hernandez used TikTok to search for videos of tutorials on makeup and reviews about taco trucks. The 19-year old spent hours per day scrolling TikTok for war videos since Russia invaded Ukraine. He saw graphic footage of Ukrainian tanks firing at Russian troops and civilians fleeing from gunfire.
Ms. Hernandez, a Los Angeles student, said that TikTok’s content is more authentic and real than other social media. “I feel like people are seeing what I see.”
What Ms. Hernandez was actually seeing and hearing in TikTok videos were footage of Ukrainian tanks from video games as well as a soundtrack that had been uploaded to the app over a year ago. In a New York Times analysis, the soundtrack and footage were tracked back to their original source.
TikTok is a Chinese-owned video platform that’s well-known for its viral dance videos and lip-syncing videos. It has become one of the most used platforms to share photos and videos of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. According to The Times, hundreds of thousands have been uploaded to the app over the past week from all corners of the globe. According to The New Yorker, the invasion was the ” first TikTok War” in the world.
TikTok has been in a difficult position due to the surge. It is now faced with the task of moderating hundreds of videos, many of which are unverified, about one event that has captured the attention of a worldwide audience. It is now faced with misleading and distorted information on a vast scale that has plagued older social media sites like YouTube, facebook, and Instagram.
Researchers who have studied TikTok video of the invasion show that many of them — including those of Ukrainians streaming from their bunkers — are authentic accounts. However, videos were difficult to verify and substantiate . Researchers said that some simply exploit the interest in the invasion to get views.
Pravda, Ukraine’s newspaper, published an audio clip in which 13 Ukrainian soldiers were on Snake Island (an outpost of Black Sea), facing a Russian military unit asking them to surrender. This clip was used in TikTok videos that included a note saying that 13 of the soldiers had died. Later, Ukrainian officials stated in a Facebook Post that all 13 soldiers had died and that they were still alive. However, the TikTok videos remain uncorrected.
Abbie Richards, an independent researcher, said that there are “people who, right now,” are seeing war on TikTok. It is trusted by many people. This is because many people believe it and are now seeing false information about Ukraine.
U.S. lawmakers are urging TikTok, and other social media platforms, to stop Russian misinformation regarding the war. This includes information from state-backed media outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik. YouTube responded by saying it will block Russia Today, Sputnik and Meta in the European Union. Meanwhile, Meta and Twitter, which are the parent companies of Facebook, stated that they would declare content from these outlets state-sponsored.
TikTok also banned Russia Today and Sputnik in the E.U. and said on Friday that it would begin labeling outlets as state-sponsored in countries where they are still accessible. On Thursday, the app stated that it has increased its resources for monitoring misleading content related to war.
Hilary McQuaide, TikTok’s spokeswoman, stated that “We continue to respond in war in Ukraine with increased safety resources to detect emerging threats to remove harmful misinformation” TikTok stated that it would suspend livestreaming as well as new content being uploaded to Russia on Sunday.
TikTok has been largely ignored for years because of its content. TikTok has only been widely used for five years, unlike YouTube and Facebook. YouTube was created in 2005. The app is owned by China’s ByteDance. It was created to allow users to share and create short videos of one to three minutes. It gained a reputation for creating addictive, funny, and entertaining videos, especially for younger users.
In the past, there have been some issues with the app. The app has been through some controversies in the past.
However, the conflict in Ukraine has made TikTok’s problems even more pressing. The app has more than one billion users worldwide.
According to The Times, the volume of war content found on the app is far greater than what can be found on other social networks. TikTok has seen videos with #Ukrainewar garnering nearly 500 million views. Some of the most popular videos have received close to one million likes. The Instagram hashtag #Ukrainewar had 125,000 posts, and the most popular videos were viewed thousands of times.
TikTok’s features were designed to allow people to share and record their content. However, it has made it possible to distribute unverified videos on its platform. TikTok’s “For You” page uses an algorithm that suggests videos based upon what users have seen, liked, and shared. Ms. Richards stated that viewing one video with misinformation will likely lead to other videos with misinformation.
Another TikTok feature that is very popular allows people to reuse audio. This has allowed people to make lip-sync scenes from popular songs and movies. However, audio can be misunderstood or taken out of context.
According to The Times’s review, audio from a 2020 explosion that occurred in Beirut (Lebanon) was uploaded to TikTok videos over the past week. The videos claimed to show current-day Ukraine. Another example is a soundtrack of gunfire, which was uploaded to TikTok Feb. 1, before Russia invaded, and later used in more than 1,700 videos, according to Ms. Richards.
Because TikTok is a global platform, it can be difficult to remove such content. After a video has been uploaded, it can be recorded again and then translated into many other languages. Videos that aren’t reported by users need to be found independently by content moderators who are fluent in the respective languages before they can be removed.
Alex Stamos, who is also the director of Stanford Internet Observatory and was previously the head of security at Facebook, stated that video is the most difficult format to moderate on all platforms. This, combined with the fact TikTok’s algorithm being the primary factor in what content a user views, rather than friendships or followings on big U.S. platforms makes TikTok an extremely powerful platform for viral propaganda.
Dafne Atapan, a 23-year-old Turkish national living in San Francisco Bay Area, stated that she knew she had to check the factual accuracy of TikTok videos about the war. She stated that she noticed many videos were edited from news reports, or commentary by people in the United States watching the events in Ukraine from afar.
She said that she feels like the videos she’s been seeing lately are intended to get her riled up or emotionally manipulate her. “I worry so much now that I sometimes find myself going online to check the comments and see if it’s true before I believe it.”
Ms. Hernandez, a student in Los Angeles, stated that she was shocked to hear from a Times reporter about how some TikTok videos she had seen were misleading and unreliable.
She said, “I guess that I don’t really understand what war looks like.” “But we go TikTok for everything so it makes sense that we would trust it regarding this.”
Ms. Hernandez said that TikTok was her favorite platform for news. She said that most of the information she sees on the app is real.