Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a flood of misleading and fake material on TikTok. The popular app used by more than a billion people has amplified videos depicting ancient conflicts, scenes from movies and even video game battles as if showing live footage from the field.
In times of crisis, social media platforms always struggle to keep pace with misinformation and make round-the-clock calls to find out when a viral post should be taken down. But the wave of conflict-themed footage now on TikTok has swamped the platform in new ways, sending countless fakes or videos of the war in Ukraine reaching millions of viewers.
“While it is crucial that the public remain informed about these high-stakes situations, it appears that the design of the platform is incompatible with the needs of the moment,” wrote Abbie Richards of liberal watchdog group Media Matters.
On Friday night, videos with the hashtag #RussianInvasion received 32 million views and videos with the hashtag #RussiaUkraine racked up 132 million views.
“This is the first time that TikTok has really been at the center of a conflict situation of this magnitude,” said Sam Gregory, program director of Witness, a nonprofit focused on the ethical use of video. in humanitarian crises.
“And the volume of misleading videos strikes me as new. Some people do it because they want attention, some people want to monetize it, others potentially do it as misinformation and misinformation,” he said. -he declares.
Some users are exploiting features that help videos on TikTok go viral, including reusing an audio clip with new footage.
Gunfire audio uploaded before the war started was used in more than 1,700 videos before it was deleted, often featuring shaky camera footage to make it look like it was capturing conflict, according to Media. Matters. The group also discovered that a video containing audio from a 2020 explosion in Beirut had been viewed more than 6 million times in just 12 hours.
TikTok’s community guidelines state that it prohibits misinformation “that harms individuals,” such as videos that incite hatred or prejudice. But the images distorting scenes of war don’t appear to explicitly violate the company’s content policies.
TikTok did not return a request for comment.
In the past two days, an NPR reporter received an unlabeled video showing a cinematic depiction of the war that has been viewed nearly 50 million times and sparked a conversation in the comments about whether it was from Ukraine.. An old Albanian training exercise meant to show Ukraine that has been viewed almost 15 million times. And a 2014 video viewed on the platform about 5 million times claiming to show Ukrainian and Russian soldiers “face to face.”
The design of TikTok creates something of a paradox: if you watch a video over and over to try to decipher whether it’s authentic or not, or come back to it after doing some research, “you’re telling the algorithm that you want more,” Gregory said.
Researchers like Gregory say TikTok can do more to give users tools to quickly determine if a video is fake: the ability to do instant reverse image searches to see if the video has circulated in the past and establish databases where average users can go to see if popular videos have already been debunked.
Often, if a video is fraudulent, TikTok commenters will flag it and the comment will rise to the top of the video’s discussion section, but waiting for a TikTok user to determine if a video is fake is often too little, too late. , researchers say.
Gregory said TikTok has the potential to make humanitarian crises and wars more vivid and tangible for a massive audience who may not have otherwise engaged at all, but time spent watching fake war videos n doesn’t add much to a person’s understanding of a conflict.
“We shouldn’t instantly dismiss that fleeting moments in people’s lives are bad. There may be ways TikTok can help people engage and engage with people on the front lines,” Gregory said. . “But the challenge is to find those moments in all the manipulations.”