Several studies published since the Russian invasion point out that TikTok is a privileged vector for the dissemination of false news on the war in Ukraine, especially from pro-Kremlin media.
Some misleading publications “receive a staggering level of engagement,” says Ciarán O'Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a London-based think tank.
Unlike Twitter or Facebook, the application is for the first time facing a massive disinformation campaign, underlines Serguey Sanovich, researcher at Princeton University, in the United States.
And the fact that TikTok is owned by a Chinese company is not without consequences.
Bombing of buildings, civilians in tears and devastated cities: since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, TikTok has, like other social networks, become a showcase of war.
But the Chinese application is above all a gateway to false information, reveals the latest investigation by Newsguard, an American start-up that fights against misinformation.
In their conclusions, published on March 3, the analysts point the finger at the social network, which constitutes a “bottomless pit of war disinformation”, “to which a young audience is exposed”.
And this even if users “are not looking for content related to Ukraine”.
But why is the app particularly affected by fake war-related content?
According to an analysis by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) published on March 2, the platform is widely used by accounts linked to state-controlled Russian media, for example Russia Today, RIA Novosti or Sputnik, without the users cannot detect it.
“Our analysis has shown that TikTok was an essential part of the Kremlin's disinformation apparatus, explains
Ciarán O'Connor, the analyst who piloted this report , to
20 Minutes .
Indeed, Russian media outlets are now using the platform to target Ukraine or to promote supposed justifications for the invasion.
In their investigation, Ciarán O'Connor and his team, for example, identified no less than ten accounts operated by Russia Today on TikTok.
“We are also noticing that Russian state-controlled news outlets are receiving a staggering level of engagement.
In some examples, these commitments exceed those on YouTube”, notes our interlocutor.
The difficult distinction between content
The ISD investigation thus shows the real difficulty, for Russian users who do not have access to free information, of identifying hidden Russian media accounts, which Ciarán O'Connor describes as "the major challenge " of the social network now.
“Some publications make overt disinformation with misleading or false accounts published by the Russian state, for example about Volodymyr Zelensky's escape from kyiv.
Then, other stories are in a gray area and maybe have an element of truth, but they are placed in a larger narrative that exaggerates the information or includes other false information as well”, underlines our interlocutor.
Since the platform's first missteps during the war in Ukraine, TikTok has announced the suspension of new downloads in Russia in response to two laws that prohibit the dissemination of information aimed at "discrediting" the Russian armed forces.
“TikTok is an outlet for creativity and entertainment that can provide a source of relief and human connection in times of war when people face immense tragedy and isolation.
However, the safety of our employees and our users remains our top priority,” the social network announced on its website.
Before adding: “In light of the new Russian law on “fake news”, we have no choice but to suspend live streaming and new content from our video service.
But this new ban does not mean that misinformation has disappeared from the social network, according to Ciarán O'Connor.
“It probably reduced the number of users in Russia, or maybe the time per day that the average user spends on TikTok.
But at the same time, Russian social media users are well aware of VPNs and other methods to avoid blockages.
For example, the editor-in-chief of Russia Today, Margarita Simonyan, continues to publish new videos, while we know that she is in Russia, ”says the ISD analyst.
Stricter measures to be taken, says ISD
According to specialists interviewed by
, TikTok's exposure to misinformation comes mainly from the young age of the social network.
Created in 2016, the application has not yet had time to anticipate the issues related to the fight against disinformation, explains Serguey Sanovich, postdoctoral fellow specializing in disinformation and the governance of social media platforms at the University of Princeton, USA.
“U.S.-based platforms like Twitter and Facebook may have started thinking about fake news much earlier, after interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and have now largely removed state-funded warmongers from their networks. Russian.
“This is one of the first major wars in which TikTok has been at the forefront of events on the ground – both for those watching from afar but also for those trying to document events, broadcast stories and shape perceptions," says Ciarán O'Connor.
For him, “it is vital that TikTok takes measures to limit the reach of Russian media promoting misinformation or, at least, to educate users about the source of the information they consume, with the creation of labels.
A Chinese application, size difference
But that's not all: the TikTok social network belongs to the Chinese company Bytenance, which plays a role in moderation according to Serguey Sanovich.
According to the Princeton University researcher, the Chinese company will never make disinformation its priority.
And Ciarán O'Connor to recall: “TikTok and Bytedance are regularly the subject of questions and criticism concerning their links with the Chinese state or the potential influence of the government.
These questions are all the more relevant as China refuses to condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine outright.
But according to the researchers, it is still difficult to measure the influence and emprose of China on the social network.
For ISD, the next few months will undoubtedly be very important for social networks in Russia.
“As the war continues and the intensity of media coverage may fade, we will have to continue to monitor the platforms, insists Ciarán O'Connor.
Will they still maintain the restrictions or will they cancel their blockages?
It will be observed…”
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