Skip to content
Search

Latest Stories

Top Stories

TikTok has become a hotbed of misinformation

TikTok
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

In the last election cycle, Facebook and Twitter came under heavy criticism because they were used to spread misinformation and disinformation. But as those platforms have matured and others have surged to the forefront, researchers are now examining the negative influence of the newer players. Like TikTok.

The platform, which allows users to create and share short videos, has become tremendously popular, particularly among teens and young adults. It was the second most downloaded app during the first quarter of 2022, according to Forbes, and it has become the second most popular social media platform among teens this year, per the Pew Research Center.


And because TikTok is also eating into a big chunk of Google’s search dominance, it has become a significant source of misinformation.

Earlier this month, researchers at NewsGuard sampled TikTok search results on a variety of topics, covering the 2020 presidential election, the midterm elections, Covid-19, abortion and school shootings. They found that nearly 20 percent of the results demonstrated misinformation.

Emphasis theirs:

For example, the first result in a search for the phrase “Was the 2020 election stolen?” was a July 2022 video with the text “The Election Was Stolen!” The narrator stated that the “2020 election was overturned. President Trump should get the next two years and he should also be able to run for the next four years. Since he won the election, he deserves it.” (Election officials in all 50 states have affirmed the integrity of the election, and top officials in the Trump administration have dismissed claims of widespread fraud.)

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Of the first 20 videos in the search results, six contained misinformation (if not disinformation), including one that used a QAnon hashtag. The same search on Google did not result in web pages promoting misinformation.

Similarly, a search for “January 6 FBI” on TikTok returned eight videos containing misinformation among the top 20, including the top result. Again, Google did not have any misinformation in the top 20.

While Google will search the entire internet – from government websites to news to videos to recipes – a TikTok search will only return videos uploaded to the platform by its users.

TikTok does have a content moderation system and states in its guidelines that misinformation is not accepted. But users appear to have found ways around the AI system that serves as the first line of defense against misinformation.

“There is endless variety, and efforts to evade content moderation (as indicated in [NewsGuard’s] report) will always stay several steps ahead of the efforts by the platform,” said Cameron Hickey, project director for algorithmic transparency at the National Conference on Citizenship, when asked whether there is anything the platforms can do to prevent misinformation from surfacing in search results. “That doesn’t mean the answer is always no, but it means that concrete investment in both understanding what misinformation is out there, how people talk about it, and effectively judging both the validity and danger are a significant undertaking.”

While advocates encourage social media platforms to step up their anti-misiniformation efforts, there are other steps that can be taken at the user end, particularly by stepping up education about identifying falsehoods.

“Users on social media need greater media literacy skills in general, but a key focus should be on understanding why messages stick,” said Hickey.

He pointed to three reasons people latch onto misinformation:

  • Motivated reasoning: People want to find contentpeople statement that aligns with their beliefs and values.
  • Emotional appeals: Media consumers need to pause when they have an emotional response to some information and evaluate the cause of the reaction.
  • Easy answers: Be wary of any information that seems too good to be true.

Read More

Computer image of a person speaking
ArtemisDiana/Getty Images

Overcoming AI voice cloning attacks on election integrity

Levine is an election integrity and management consultant who works to ensure that eligible voters can vote, free and fair elections are perceived as legitimate, and election processes are properly administered and secured.

Imagine it’s Election Day. You’re getting ready to go vote when you receive a call from a public official telling you to vote at an early voting location rather than your Election Day polling site. So, you go there only to discover it’s closed. Turns out that the call wasn’t from the public official but from a replica created by voice cloning technology.

That might sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but many New Hampshire voters experienced something like it two days before the 2024 presidential primary. They received robocalls featuring a deepfake simulating the voice of President Joe Biden that discouraged them from participating in the primary.

Keep ReadingShow less
Robotic hand holding a ballot
Alfieri/Getty Images

What happens when voters cede their ballots to AI agents?

Frazier is an assistant professor at the Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University. Starting this summer, he will serve as a Tarbell fellow.

With the supposed goal of diversifying the electorate and achieving more representative results, State Y introduces “VoteGPT.” This artificial intelligence agent studies your social media profiles, your tax returns and your streaming accounts to develop a “CivicU.” This artificial clone would use that information to serve as your democratic proxy.

Keep ReadingShow less
Sen. Ron Johnson in front of a chart

Sen. Ron Johnson claims President Biden has allowed 1,700 terrorists to enter the country. That total refers to encounters (people who were stopped)

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Has President Joe Biden ‘let in’ nearly 1,700 people with links to terrorism?

This fact brief was originally published by Wisconsin Watch. Read the original here. Fact briefs are published by newsrooms in the Gigafact network, and republished by The Fulcrum. Visit Gigafact to learn more.

Has President Joe Biden ‘let in’ nearly 1,700 people with links to terrorism?

No.

Border agents have encountered individuals on the federal terrorist watchlist nearly 1,700 times since President Joe Biden took office — that means those people were stopped while trying to enter the U.S.

Keep ReadingShow less
Social media app icons
hapabapa/Getty Images

Urban planning can counter social media’s impact on young people

Dr. Jones is a grassroot urban planner, architectural designer, and public policy advocate. She was recently a public voice fellow through The OpEd Project.

Despite the breathtaking beauty of our world, many young people remain oblivious to it, ensnared by the all-consuming grip of social media. A recent Yale Medicine report revealed the rising negative impact social media has on teens, as this digital entrapment rewires their brains and leads to alarming mental and physical health struggles. Tragically, they are deprived of authentic life experiences, having grown up in a reality where speculation overshadows genuine interactions.

For the sake of our society’s future, we must urgently curb social media’s dominance and promote real-world exploration through urban planning that ensures accessible, enriching environments for all economic levels to safeguard the mental and physical health of the young.

Keep ReadingShow less
podcast mic in the middle of a red and blue America
Topdesigner/Getty Images

Fellowship brings Gen Z voices into democracy and podcasting

Spinelle is the founder of The Democracy Group podcast network and the communications lead for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State.

According to Edison Research, nearly half of Gen Z are monthly podcast listeners. But their voices are largely absent from podcasts about democracy, civic engagement and civil discourse. The Democracy Group’s podcast fellowship, which recently completed its third cohort, aims to change that.

Keep ReadingShow less