Elections and TikTok and Misinformation, Oh My!

Tiktok misinformation

These days, it feels like the election cycle never really ends. And similarly, the cycle of misinformation online is unending. Whether it’s low-stakes rumors about celebrities or very real conspiracies, most online platforms are full of misinformation. And with its explosion in popularity, TikTok has become one of the main battlegrounds for fighting misinformation online.

As we head into the full swing of this year’s midterm elections, TikTok, like other platforms, is ramping up efforts to weed out misinformation. As communications professionals, we think media literacy and vetting your online information is one of the most important things that anyone can do, especially online. So here are some tips to keep in mind whether you’re scrolling TikTok in your free time, monitoring media trends for work, or engaging in any other online activity this fall.

Look who’s talking

Seriously, step one when you come across anything online is to look at who’s talking. This doesn’t just mean looking at the profile picture or the handle. It means looking at other elements, usually easy to see: Is the account verified? Is it a copycat of a real account? And beyond that, is the person talking an actual authority in what they’re sharing? The rules of the real world apply online – would you trust a marketer like me with medical information? Probably not. So why would you take health advice from a random influencer?

Beware of #SponCon

Sponsored content, paid partnerships, and other forms of online advertising can be tricky. In theory, creators should tag anything they are paid to promote with hashtags like #ad #paidpartner etc. But in practice, spotting sponsored content (sponcon) can mean taking the time to click through to the creator’s account and seeing if they have an affiliate link or promo code in their bio. Sometimes creators are paid for partnerships they really believe in. Sometimes they’re just selling things to make ends meet. No matter what, proceed with caution before buying what anyone is selling online.

Check the sources, then check again

TikTok is unique from other social platforms when it comes to how information and crediting sources is shared. With the use of the greenscreen effect, creators can easily put screenshots of their sources up in the background of their videos. It’s also easy to include links to articles in captions or comments. Take a second to click through and read those! And if a creator is sharing new information without any attribution, take a moment to do a quick Google search for reputable news articles backing up their claims.

Take a beat before you share

Finally, one of the most important ways everyone can help with the rapid spread of misinformation is to pause and take a moment to think before sharing or reacting to something online. No matter what your first instinct is when you come across a piece of news or content, it’s worth pausing for a few seconds before going forward. Take a beat, go back through this list, and then decide if it’s something you actually want to share or engage with.

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