TikTok is quietly becoming a political force all over the world. In the United States, plenty of people—especially teens—increasingly rely on the platform for election information, news updates, and fact-checking commentary.
But while TikTok can be a great option to learn about political topics that interest you, there’s a problem: It’s also full of dangerous misinformation, experts say.
During recent elections around the globe, this misleading information has caused real trouble. In Germany, for example, TikTok accounts impersonated prominent political figures during the country’s last national election. In Colombia, TikTok posts allowed a woman to masquerade as a candidate’s daughter. In the Philippines, TikTok videos amplified myths about the country’s former dictator and helped his son win the country’s presidential election.
Now the U.S. is facing similar issues as November’s midterm elections approach. According to researchers, the same qualities that allow TikTok to fuel viral dance fads—the platform’s enormous reach, the short length of its videos, its powerful but poorly understood recommendation algorithm—can also make inaccurate claims difficult to contain.
Conspiracy theories are widely viewed on TikTok, which globally has more than 1 billion active users each month. Although the platform has blocked some political topics, such as the #RiggedElection hashtag, there are still videos urging viewers to vote in November while citing debunked rumors. For example, TikTok posts have garnered thousands of views by claiming, without evidence, that predictions of a surge in Covid-19 infections this fall are an attempt to discourage in-person voting.