An investigation by NewsGuard found that TikTok gives children under the age of nine false and dangerous information about COVID-19 immediately after signing up for the platform.

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The short-form video-sharing app, which is particularly popular with children under 18, served up false and misleading COVID-19 claims to nine children recruited by NewsGuard and their parents or Carefully supervised by other adult relatives. The barrage of toxic material – including videos that vaccines are deadly and that COVID-19 is a genocide plot – also came as some children did not follow a single account or search for specific types of information.

In August and September 2021, NewsGuard asked nine children aged nine to 17 to create new TikTok accounts to track how long it would take them to report COVID-19 misinformation. The group was made up of four girls and five boys – four English speakers, three Italian speakers, one German speaker and one French speaker. They were instructed to stay on the platform for 45 minutes and record the session. In all cases, the newsguard received permission from the parents to allow the children to participate.


Although TikTok says it bars children under the age of 13 from using the platform, children as young as nine were easily able to sign on without coaching from an adult.

A slippery slope: misinformation flows fast and free on TikTok

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NewsGuard’s analysis of screen recordings taken by participants shows that in their first 35 minutes on TikTok, all except one (88.89 percent) were shown misinformation related to COVID-19, and two-thirds (66.67 percent) was shown to have specific misinformation for COVID-19 vaccines.

Four of the participants were instructed to have “minimal engagement” with the app’s features, meaning not to follow other accounts, search for specific topics, or click on hashtags. Nonetheless, he was quickly shown false COVID-19 information. In other words, the fact that users did not actively search for content, including content related to COVID-19 or health-related topics in general, or follow any account, may make the app available to these children. Doesn’t prevent the feed from being actively populated with COVID-19 misinformation.

Five participants in the “high-engagement” group were shown a total of 22 videos containing COVID-19 misinformation, while participants in the “low-engagement” group were shown a total of 10. The most such videos watched by a member of the “high-engagement” group was nine, while the most for a member of the “low-engagement” group was six. (“The high-engagement” group had one more participant than the “low-engagement” group.)

NewsGuard asked TikTok to comment on why the platform enables young children to report potentially dangerous COVID-19 misinformation within minutes of logging on; Why it’s so easy for underage kids to sign up for the app; Why aren’t there more warnings about false claims floating around on the platform; Why are many satirical posts not labeled as such; And what is TikTok doing to stop the spread of misinformation (especially about COVID-19) on its platform.

In response, TikTok sent an anonymous spokesperson statement to NewsGuard on September 20, 2021: “The safety and well-being of our community is our priority, and we work diligently to crack down on content and accounts that promote misinformation. Official content about COVID-19 and educating users about media literacy.”

The spokesperson also provided information from TikTok’s COVID-19 information webpage as well as its community guidelines, its first quarter 2021 transparency report, and a blog post about “age-appropriate” experiences on TikTok.

NewsGuard’s investigation included the following claims in the false claims fed by TikTok to nine young participants:

Covid-19 vaccines kill people

COVID-19 vaccines are “fake”

The “harm” of COVID-19 vaccines is being “hidden”

Hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19

Eating burnt oranges and brown sugar will bring back your taste and smell after infection with COVID-19

COVID-19 vaccines contain graphene oxide

80 to 90 percent of COVID-19 patients are fully vaccinated in Israeli hospitals

Natural immunity to COVID-19 is better than vaccine

People with O-type blood less likely to get COVID-19

COVID-19 is the name of the “International Plan for the Control and Reduction of Populations.”

The content, amount and severity of misinformation of COVID-19 fed to participants varied, but the danger inherent in feeding it to children was consistent.

An Italian-speaking participant, aged 15 and in the “low-engagement” group, was shown material by a well-known advocate of COVID-19 misinformation within 25 minutes. The video shows Alessandro Meluzzi, who Newsguard has identified as a “super-spreader” of misinformation on Twitter, claiming that most of the COVID-19 vaccines administered in Italy are “fake”.

An English-speaking participant, aged 12 and in the “high-engagement” group, was first shown a video claiming that rapper Biggie Smalls predicted the COVID-19 pandemic in 1994. This video was just submitted to a 12 year old kid. Eight minutes after signing up for the platform. Two minutes later, a video appeared on his feed promoting an unproven home remedy to restore taste and smell after infection with COVID-19. In the 35 minutes that followed, she was shown three times a video promoting the same bogus measure.

Another participant, a 13-year-old Italian speaker in the “low-engagement” group, was initially shown satirical videos related to COVID-19, such as one claiming that the ingredients of the vaccines contained “sausage, olives and cheese”. Huh. However, 23 minutes after this 13-year-old signed up, a video that cited a man who died three days after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine appeared on the participant’s feed with the caption: “Him Wa**ine and he dies after three days! What do you think?” (The asterisks used in the word “vaccine” are meant to indicate explicitly that the word is a profanity.)

In the next 20 minutes, the participant was shown three more videos implying that the COVID-19 vaccines are either dangerous or fatal. For example, a video about a woman experiencing health problems after getting vaccinated appeared with the caption “Heart problems after va**in. What do you think?” Another video showed news reports about select people who reportedly died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, making no reference and implying that the vaccine killed people.

A third participant in the “high-engagement” group, a 13-year-old French speaker, was shown a satirical video related to COVID-19 just 17 seconds after signing up. After 20 minutes, a video appeared warning of a “new world order”. It claimed that French rapper Kenny Arkana had “understood everything” in the song’s lyrics, adding that the governments were “laying the groundwork for the biggest massacre …

After half an hour on TikTok, this young teenager was shown almost exclusively misinformation, including anti-vaccine material and anti-government conspiracy theories.

He later said of his experience using TikTok: “Having been on TikTok, I think it’s a waste of time even more than before and it’s full of fake news and theories. [COVID-19] Vaccines that can affect people.”

Other participants described their feelings before exercise as “calm,” “curious,” “normal,” “expected,” “anxious,” and “interested.” After exercise, their feelings included “surprised,” “dizzy,” “tired,” “satisfied,” and “alert.”

The youth has promoted the rapid development of Tiktok.

a quarter of tiktok 130 million monthly active user in we Data company Statista reported that as of March 2021 there were ages 10 to 19, and nearly half of the total users were under the age of 30. In UKAccording to Statista, people under the age of 25 represent 24 percent of all users. bloomberg has reported that nearly 30 percent of French TikTok users are under the age of 18, as are one-third of Italian users and nearly one-quarter of German users.

According to app analytics firm App Annie, TikTok has begun to eclipse other well-established social-media platforms in popularity, now surpassing YouTube in the average viewing time of Android users in the US and UK. TikTok was the world’s most downloaded app 2020, App Annie reported.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, an internet conglomerate based in China and partly owned by the Chinese government. TikTok content fed to Chinese users is strictly controlled and not the same as content that TikTok exports to Western children who took part in NewsGuard’s survey.

The spread of misinformation on social media, especially of children, is of concern to experts leading the fight against COVID-19, so much so that the World Health Organization, with which NewsGuard is monitoring COVID-19 misinformation cooperates. It is launching a series of campaigns in the coming weeks aimed at providing youth with accurate information and media literacy skills.

John Verry, director of the Perelman School of Medicine’s Institute for Immunology, said, “Scientists are working hard to get accurate and clear scientific data to help people respond to COVID-19, vaccination and social distancing measures when they need it.” to help make informed decisions about The University of Pennsylvania told NewsGuard when it was informed of these findings. “While we are fighting the more rapid spread of misinformation, it makes the task of ending the pandemic even more difficult. Furthermore, this kind of misinformation undermines the confidence in the science we really need right now. the wanted.”

Along with outright false content, NewsGuard identified nine satirical videos related to COVID-19, viewed by participants, that may mislead users. In college…