Tik-Tok is where disinformation is not checked outside Russia, and where the truth is not allowed to go into Russia. Also, since Tik-Tok is primarily a video/audio social media, it has no API for researchers to use to keep tabs on miscreants muddying the dissemination of true news. There are some workarounds as discussed in the bottom half of this article, but, it is still harder to know just how much disinformation from Russia is out there on this popular social media:
TikTok’s actions in Russia and its central role in spreading video and rumor from the war in Ukraine add urgency to open questions about how truth and mistruth circulate on the platform, Romano and other researchers say. TikTok’s geopolitical moment also highlights the challenges faced by researchers trying to answer such questions. The app, launched in 2017, surpassed 1 billion monthly users in September 2021, but it is less well studied, and more difficult to study, than its older rivals.
Most work on the dynamics and downsides of social media has focused on Facebook and Twitter. Tools and techniques developed for those platforms have shone revealing light on the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 and uncovered online manipulation campaigns linked to governments, including Russia, China, and Mexico. Meta and Twitter provide APIs to help researchers see what is circulating on their platforms.
TikTok does not provide a research API, making it hard to answer questions about its role in spreading accurate or inaccurate information around the Ukraine war or other topics. And while researchers might like to see Meta and Twitter provide broader data access, these platforms at least offer something, says Shelby Grossman, a researcher who has been monitoring pro-Russian posts about Ukraine at Stanford’s Internet Observatory. “It’s tough to look systematically at what’s happening on TikTok,” she says. Researchers have also scrambled to monitor content about Ukraine on messaging app Telegram, which also lacks a researcher API and is much less studied than US networks.