Experts say the war in Ukraine has quickly positioned TikTok as the No. 1 source of misinformation due to its sheer number of users and minimal filtering of content.

Every day, Shayan Sardarizadeh, a reporter for the BBC’s disinformation team, posts a hallucinatory mix of false and misleading information about the war on the video-sharing site.

“TikTok is really not fighting a good fight,” he told AFP.

“I haven’t seen so much fake content on platform,” he added.

“We’ve seen it all: videos of past conflicts being recycled, real footage presented in a misleading way, stuff that’s clearly wrong but still gets tens of millions of views.”

Most disturbing, he said, were the fake livestreams, in which users pretended to be on the ground in Ukraine but used footage of other conflicts or even video games – and then demanded money to support their “reports”.

“Millions of people listened and watched. They even added fake gunshots and explosions,” Sardarizadeh said.

Anastasiya Zhyrmont of the advocacy group Access Now said there was no excuse for saying the war was a surprise.

“The conflict has been escalating since 2014 and these issues of Kremlin propaganda and misinformation were raised on TikTok long before the invasion,” she told AFP.

“They’ve committed to going the extra and working with content moderators, but I’m not sure they’re taking that obligation seriously,” she added.

no context’

Zhyrmont said the problem may lie in the lack of Ukrainian-language content moderators, making it for TikTok to spot disinformation.

TikTok told AFP it had Russian and Ukrainian speakers, but did not say how many, and said it had added resources dedicated to the war, without providing details.

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AFP is a TikTok partner, providing fact-checking services in Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

Some say the very nature of TikTok becomes problematic when the subject matter becomes more serious than fun skits and dance routines.

“The way you consume information on TikTok — scrolling very quickly from one video to another — means there is no context for any given content,” said Chine Labbe of NewsGuard, which tracks misinformation online.

NewsGuard conducted an experiment to see how long it took new users to start receiving false information when watching videos about war.

The answer is 40 minutes.

“NewsGuard’s findings provide further evidence that TikTok’s lack of effective content labeling and moderation, combined with its skills in pushing users to content that keeps them on the app, makes the platform a fertile ground for disinformation,” it said in its report draw conclusions.

TikTok is aware of this problem.

In a March 4 blog post, it said it was using a “combination of technology and people to protect our platform” and was working with independent fact-checkers to provide more context.

‘It’s really troublesome’

TikTok, meanwhile, is particularly concerned about the age of its users: in the US, for example, a third of users are 19 or younger.

“It’s hard enough for an adult to decipher the truth from Ukrainian propaganda. For a young user, it’s really disturbing to be fed all this false information,” Rabe said.

Misinformation is rampant across all social media, but TikTok has done less to combat it than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, all interviewed.

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TikTok’s relative infancy also means that its own users haven’t joined the fray as they have on other platforms.

Sardarizadeh said: “There is some engagement in disinformation on Twitter and Instagram.”

“There are people who start fact-checking and educating people on TikTok, but we’re talking about a dozen or two, and there are hundreds of people on Twitter.”