Sitamarhi (India) — The battle continues against misinformation on TikTok, Generation Z’s favourite social media platform.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classified Covid-19 as a pandemic last year and the disease’s spread has disrupted many aspects of one’s life. Around the world, schools, offices and almost everything else shut down, and people urged to stay indoors to minimise the spread of the virus.
With “social distancing” and “safe distancing” in full swing, people have turned to social media more than ever before to stay in touch with friends and family. Social media is also increasingly being used to find out the latest developments in the battle against the virus.
Young people, especially those known as Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012), have increasingly turned to TikTok, making it a popular social media app, to connect with one another.
However, the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 on social media platforms has led to fear, panic and confusion.
In India, TikTok was banned in June last year, along with 223 other Chinese apps, by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. It said they were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”. The apps are no longer available in the Google Play store or Apple App store in the country.
There is also much debate in the United States on the app and restrictions targeting TikTok. On Tuesday (Jan 19), the US government agreed to extend a deadline in a court battle over restrictions targeting TikTok. The new deadline is Feb 18 — almost a month after the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
A spokesman for Mr Biden’s transition team declined to comment on the President’s plans. TikTok also declined to comment. However, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department said in a statement that the risks associated with the app “have not changed, and the order requiring the divestiture stands”.
The WHO, on March 13 last year, termed the deluge of Covid-19 related misinformation as an “infodemic” — an over-abundance of information making it hard and confusing to find trustworthy source and reliable advice.
So, what steps have open-sourced social media platforms such as TikTok taken to combat the “infodemic”?
TikTok is a social sharing platform that allows users to create and share short videos of between three and 15 seconds. Branded as an entreatment and creative app, it allows users to post lip-synch, comedy and talent online, using sound, songs and special effects to create video. Advertising companies have shifted campaigns onto the platform to attract Gen Z consumers, as young people predominantly obtain information from social media.
Over the months, TikTok has been used by many young people to combat boredom while under quarantine due to the virus. Some users regularly upload videos on the Chinese version of TikTok providing a glimpse of quarantine. TikTok users in the US and Europe frequently post reactions on commentary on how their lives have changed due to the coronavirus.
The problem is fake news and rumours that are tagged “Covid-19” and other related tags often come up alongside accurate and verified officials post in search result when users search for content on social media platforms.
In January this year, a TikTok user from British Columbia, Canada, claimed to have the virus in order to boost his likes and followers. While it was later debunked by the authorities and fact-checkers as false, and removed by TikTok, the bogus prank video had already obtained 4.1 million views online.
This example highlights the need to reach out to the Gen Z demographic where they “congregate” online — through platforms such as TikTok. This helps to ensure that myth-busting about coronavirus reaches them in a way that they can actually understand, learn and share it with their online community.
Simran Hisaria is an overseas intern with The Independent SG. /TISG
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