Friday, September 22, 2023

Does the TikTok algorithm want you to see fake news about the war in Ukraine?

NewsGuard has carried out a new study about misinformation on social media. On this occasion, they focused on the TikTok platform, where they analyzed the behavior of the algorithm on a particular topic: the Ukrainian war. According to Guardian, the result of this study has been very conclusive. And it is that TikTok guides its users to false news about the conflict after spending about 40 minutes in the application.

NewsGuard is dedicated to monitoring the veracity of certain media of news far and wide on the web. In their report on TikTok, the team behind the research confirms that “near the end of a 45-minute experiment, the feed of the investigators was populated by both correct and false information related to the war in Ukraine. Without any distinction between disinformation and reliable media”, adding:

“At a time when false narratives about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict are rampant online, none of the videos provided to our analysts by the TikTok algorithm contained any information about the reliability of the source; warnings, checks on facts or additional information that could provide users with reliable information.”


The most common fake news about Ukraine on TikTok

Of course, the selection of fake news on the app was quite varied. Nevertheless, the most prominent are narratives we have already heard previously. Among them, we have the alleged claims that the United States has biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. Also, others who claim that Putin’s statements during a press conference in early March are edited.

In other news, they try to sell that the fake video material is real; while some real ones are considered misleading in the app. Among the first, for example, are the videos of “The Phantom of Kyiv”, which allegedly appears shooting at Russian aircraft. However, they are scenes taken from a video game. For their part, accounts inclined towards the Kremlin claim that some real content is false.

In addition, some videos shown to investigators during the tests are recognized as Kremlin propaganda, although the TikTok algorithm doesn’t seem to care too much and still shows them to users.

Does the TikTok algorithm want you to see fake news about the war in Ukraine?
Source: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash

How was the study carried out?

To carry out their investigation, the team of NewsGuard It started with the following: creating TikTok accounts. Thus, they already had a blank canvas to start with their tests. Once this step was ready, they passed about 45 minutes scrolling through the tab For you of the application. During this process, they stopped to watch in full all those videos that talked about the war in Ukraine.

While TikTok doesn’t provide a detailed breakdown of how its algorithm weighs signals, the company says it takes into account watch time for various videos, as well as other signals including likes, comments, and who you follow or have blocked.


In this way, the researchers tried to train the algorithm of the application without opting for real or misleading information. With this they wanted TikTok to keep showing more and more content About the war. The result, as we mentioned before, was a mixture of true and false news, without any warning.

The team also found that using the search terms “Ukraine”, “Russia”, “War”, “Kyiv” and “Donbas”, the TikTok algorithm kept mixing the real and fake content in the top 20 of the results.

TikTok has spoken about it

Of course, the company has quickly come out to expose its position on the results obtained by NewsGuard. According to a TikTok spokesperson, these types of experiments “only offer limited conclusions about how the application works in the real world,” they comment to Guardian. According to his position, the investigation fails to mimic display behaviors common among users of the social network.

We continue to respond to the war in Ukraine with increased security resources as we work to eliminate harmful misinformation and help protect the TikTok experience. We also partner with independent fact-checking organizations to reinforce our goals of helping keep TikTok safe and authentic.”


Of course the company you don’t have full control over the posts of its users. However, platforms have already established tools to eradicate disinformation in their communities; either by vetoing certain media outlets or labeling news as fake or aligned with the Russian government. If TikTok wants to make sure they create a safe space in their app, you better get on the bandwagon before becoming an incubator for unchecked fake content.


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