Just days before the US midterm elections, the campaign is in full swing on social networks. But disinformation is not left out either, including on TikTok. Despite the rules established by the Chinese giant, analysts fear the influence that the intox shared on the platform popular with young people could have.
Videos, evoking without any foundation the existence of electoral fraud or theft of postal ballots, have notably found refuge on the network. And, perhaps even more worryingly, TikTok has endorsed paid political ads containing misinformation on its platform, even as the company claimed in 2019 to ban such practice.
This is shown by an experiment carried out by researchers from the NGO Global Witness and the University of New York. The latter have made misleading publications, such as a video where we hear “Hackers can easily change the results of the election! No need to vote! “. Result: more than 90% of publications were authorized on the site.
TikTok’s lack of moderation could have significant repercussions on Tuesday’s election, given the role that social networks had in the last US presidential election. More than eight million young Americans active on the platform will be able to vote for the first time this November 8. And, according to a Pew Research Center poll, more than a quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now check TikTok for information.
“Users, especially younger and more impressionable ones” will end up interacting with potentially polarizing or problematic posts, worries Matt Navarra, an expert social media consultant. And if the parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, has measures to limit conspiracy theories on the social network, “this does not mean that these are respected”, explains Jon Lloyd, an adviser to Global Witness.
No context or source
Other countries have previously reported similar problems with the network, including during the presidential election in the Philippines, as well as in Germany where fake parliamentary accounts were created, and in Kenya, where political propaganda thrives. In a press release, a spokesperson for ByteDance claims to take its responsibilities “with the utmost seriousness”. “We continue to invest in our regulations, our safety, and our security teams to counter election disinformation,” he continues.
But analysts express no real optimism about an improvement in the future: “That Facebook is considered a good student in comparison on these issues, seems incredible”, underlines Steven Brill, president of NewsGuard, site which evaluates the sources of information based on its reliability. According to Matt Navarra, the “very fast and very simplistic” format of TikTok videos makes creating and distributing content within reach of any user.
As for style, nuance often gives way to choppy content, accompanied by catchy music and added voice-over commentary. It is then very difficult to distinguish myth from reality. “If young people seek election information on the platform, they will find results that are short-lived, devoid of context” and often without an explanation as to their source, concludes Jack Brewster, an analyst at NewsGuard.