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The TikTok Algorithm Misleads Users About The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Khadija Boufous Khadija Boufous
28th March 2022
The TikTok Algorithm Misleads Users About The Russian Invasion of Ukraine
TikTok is the most-followed source of news in Ukraine and Russia (Getty).

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

TikTok accounts have displayed floods of videos uploaded in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Misbar’s English team has debunked many videos circulating on TikTok purporting to be related to Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine. While debunking some false videos, our team noticed that numerous fake claims about the War on Ukraine were generated using TikTok and spread first on this platform.

NewsGuard firm has recently carried out a study, in two experiments, on the amount of news surfacing on the TikTok video-focused social media app. According to their website, the firm usually works on rating the credibility of news and information sites among more than 7,500 news sites in many countries.

In their first experiment, the researchers found that within 40 minutes, a new user of the TikTok app, who did nothing but scroll through the feed without following any accounts or conducting any searches, would receive misleading or inaccurate content and videos related to the war.The team has stated that “...by the end of the 45-minute experiment, analysts’ feeds were nearly entirely packed with accurate and fraudulent content connected to the Ukraine war with no distinction made between disinformation and reliable sources.” 

NewsGuard analysts have spent 45 minutes scrolling on the TikTok feed known as the “For You” page and have seen videos related to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Many videos on the app aim to spread conspiracy theories and unreliable stories like the myth of US bioweapons laboratories in Ukraine. Other content on TikTok tends to falsify accurate clips, while other videos claim fake footage was authentic.

According to the study report, the second experiment required the team to search for generic terms or keywords TikTok users type on the app’s search. The analysts found that the top 20 results of the search on the app using the keywords “Ukraine, “Russia,” “War,” “Kyiv,” and “Donbas” have led to videos with inaccurate or misleading information. 

The report has also mentioned that the videos checked by NewsGuard analysts have not mentioned any information about the sources' reliability, but the app has made the platform “...fertile ground for the spread of disinformation.” The feed page has also suggested reliable sources to the NewsGuard team, including Sky News and the Telegraph. 

Those “reliable TikTok channels” tend to be verified with a blue tick. The content on these verified channels is mixed up with videos uploaded by propaganda channels. This confusion could make it even harder for an ordinary user to spot inaccurate or misleading content, especially with the increase of war-related content that has received more than 30bn views since the conflict began.

Misbar previously looked into the use of TikTok to spread misinformation during the Ukraine-Russia war. Misbar’s team explains that while TikTok has been committed to fighting fake news and misinformation during the recent years, its unique features “have made it a breeding soil for false information.” TikTok has become the most-followed news source in Ukraine and Russia, with millions of viral videos. And although the app guidelines mentioned an intelligible misinformation prohibition, misleading and inaccurate content is still surfacing on the TikTok feed.

Misbar’s Sources:


Republic World

New York Times