TikTok’s design makes it a breeding ground for misinformation, the researchers found. They wrote that videos could easily be manipulated and republished on the platform and showcased alongside stolen or original content. Pseudonyms are common; parody and comedy videos are easily misinterpreted as fact; popularity affects the visibility of comments; and data about publication time and other details are not clearly displayed on the mobile app.
(The Shorenstein Center researchers noted, however, that TikTok is less vulnerable to so-called brigading, in which groups coordinate to make a post spread widely, than platforms like Twitter or Facebook.)
During the first quarter of 2022, more than 60 percent of videos with harmful misinformation were viewed by users before being removed, TikTok said. Last year, a group of behavioral scientists who had worked with TikTok said that an effort to attach warnings to posts with unsubstantiated content had reduced sharing by 24 percent but had limited views by only 5 percent.
Researchers said that misinformation would continue to thrive on TikTok as long as the platform refused to release data about the origins of its videos or share insight into its algorithms. Last month, TikTok said it would offer some access to a version of its application programming interface, or A.P.I., this year, but it would not say whether it would do so before the midterms.
Filippo Menczer, an informatics and computer science professor and the director of the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University, said he had proposed research collaborations to TikTok and had been told, “Absolutely not.”
“At least with Facebook and Twitter, there is some level of transparency, but, in the case of TikTok, we have no clue,” he said. “Without resources, without being able to access data, we don’t know who gets suspended, what content gets taken down, whether they act on reports or what the criteria are. It’s completely opaque, and we cannot independently assess anything.”