Editor's note: In the broadcast piece, we called the News Literacy Project TikTok account the "Rumor Guard" — to clarify, the RumorGuard is a separate online platform that also teaches news literacy skills. The News Literacy Project features fact checks from the organizations RumorGuard website.
(WXYZ) — About 1 billion users log onto the fast-growing social media app TikTok every month. As the app gains more popularity globally, experts say they have concerns about the spread of misinformation.
"I have Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and the news app from Apple, " said Oakland University Student Asha Moye as she sat in the student union.
Moye says she often hears breaking news from social media apps first. Several young people identified TikTok as their go to app to follow breaking national stories.
"Lately it’s been the Idaho murders. Like I got into a deep hole figuring it out and just watching a bunch of videos on that," said OU Junior Sydney Parpart.
As the pool of information across all platforms grows larger every day, students at Oakland University say it’s hard to know what’s real.
"There’s young people that find stuff on the internet and post photos and stuff, so you don’t know what to believe but then it’s also something so big right now in the world," said OU Junior Michaela Nunes." The internet is crazy. You don’t know what to believe. There’s always stuff that’s fake, even stuff with social media with girls photoshopping."
The OU students are not alone. According to Pew Research 8 in 10 Americans get their news from their digital device. The same study found nearly 53% of people get information directly from social media.
"I think it’s really important to know who to trust and there’s so much information coming at us all the time that of course you have to decide am I going to trust this Facebook post? This YouTube video? This person telling me stuff wherever they’ve heard it," said Professor Adina Schneeweis with Oakland University.
Schneeweis, who directs the journalism department at OU, also teaches several courses on the basics of journalism and media literacy. She says knowing how to discern a credible source is a skill everyone needs to know.
She says often people take a biased approach to getting or processing information regarding news which is known as confirmation bias.
"We look for information that validates our opinion, our values. One of the things that I tell my students is I don’t care what kind of information you’re consuming as long as you understand what message comes with that piece of information," said Schneeweis.
She says to make sure you’re getting accurate information look to websites ending in .edu, .gov or .org first. She says there's also credible information on sites ending in .com and social media but it may need to be double checked. Schneeweis also says people should look for attribution. She says if a specific person or expert is credited with stating a fact, it may be easier to decipher if the information is reliable. Finally, she says readers should always consider the source their information is coming from and if there may be a personal agenda at play (i.e. sponsored content).
"Try to listen to things you don’t normally listen to. Read things you don’t normally read just to see the contrast," said Schneeweis. "We don’t all have to rely on the same sources of information, but we have to do that extra step to understand what system of beliefs or values come with that information."
The students behind the weekly Oakland Post campus newspaper say they're constantly up against misinformation.
"Everyone can be an expert if you tweet something with close enough of a relevance to it people will believe you," said senior Joe Zerilli who helps produce the Oakland Post. "TikTok is another big one because the visual aspect of TikTok helps a lot. If you see something happening, you’re more likely to believe it’s true like images and videos to back it up."
The student journalists say they see lots of misleading information in online articles too.
"A lot of people don’t have the patience to read an article past the headline, so we have to be responsible with how you are directing someone toward a story. Sometimes a headline will suggest something that’s not all too truthful but people won’t read past that point because social media is typically not a friend of context so it can be tricky to navigate," said Senior Tori Coker.
Some students involved in the newspaper say misinformation is actually what drew them to being interested in studying journalism.
"I’m applying to medical school in the spring but part of the reason I added a minor in journalism is because I was and am so frustrated by the misinformation and disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic," said Senior Gabrielle Abdelmessih. "It cost people their lives and it undermined our public health response in a really big way."
EFFORTS TO COMBAT MISFORMATION
Over the last decade, representatives with the News Literacy Project say misinformation across all platforms has become increasingly concerning.
"It distorts the conversation. When people want to make a decision about their health or their politics or any social topic, you want them to make those decisions based on facts," said senior manager of education design at NLP Dan Evon.
Evon, who has been in the business of online fact checking since 2014, says anyone is susceptible to fall for it no matter their age. NLP is now one of the organizations working to teach people how to identify fake information online. They recently launched their own TikTok account where they debunk viral videos/topics.
"Tik Tok is really kind of taking over social media in general but also the spread of misinformation. So, we wanted to get our voice on that platform where we can address things more directly," said Evon. "A lot of the misinformation is taking content from other places and then reframing it, re-packaging it in a way that’s going to make it go viral."
A 2022 News Guard study took a survey of more than 540 videos on the platform on topics like the Russia-Ukraine War, Covid-19 vaccines and the 2020 election. Researchers found nearly 20% of the videos contained misinformation.
The social media platform has launched its own effort to stop the spread of misinformation on their platform.
"Misinformation is not a new problem, but the internet provides a new avenue to an old challenge. We recognize the impact misinformation can have in eroding trust in public health, electoral processes, facts, and science," the platform wrote in a September 2022 newsletter. "We are committed to being part of the solution."
The app says they take the spread of misinformation seriously and have several policies in place to remove accounts and videos that include misleading or outright false information. The platform says their integrity policy prohibits content that could mislead the community about civic processes, public health, or safety which includes medical misinformation about vaccines and abortion.
"Our Community Guidelines make clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation on TikTok. We work with experts in academia, civil society and our U.S. Content Advisory Council to develop policies and enforcement strategies, as well as support digital literacy initiatives for our community," a spokesperson from the platform said in an email to 7 Action News.
In the last 6 months, data shows the platform removed 110 million videos that went against community guidelines. Less than 1% of the videos removed were taken down because they went against the company's integrity policies.
Evon says users should slow down and try not to accept everything at face value. He also says it's okay to accept and reevaluate opinions when users find out something is not true.
"I think the impacts are wide reaching and there are going to be long lasting impacts. It’s everything that’s really consequential like things about your health or your politics but there’s also just like culture wars that play out on Tik Tok that are fueled by false claims or out of context videos and it really frames how people view the world," said Evon. "We don’t want to get into telling people what’s right and what’s wrong but having them base their opinion on things that are actually happening is very important."