TikTok audio contributes to ‘feedback loop of anti-vaccine narratives,’ researchers say

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Videos and audio tracks circulating on TikTok contribute to the viral spread of misinformation surrounding vaccines, according to researchers at a London-based firm that tracks disinformation.

According to a report from NBC News, researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found that a function of TikTok’s app that enables users to share audio tracks to make their own videos has allowed coronavirus misinformation about vaccines to go viral. 

A report from the organization showed that audio tracks containing coronavirus vaccine misinformation have gone viral as a chain message, a result of the app’s function that violates TikTok’s misinformation policy. 

Researchers say that the function of audio tracks is unique to the social media platform, which has become wildly popular in the past few years. 

“This function is being used exactly as TikTok designed it,” Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD), told NBC News. “The audio is being shared and reacted to. But the consequence is that it creates a feedback loop of anti-vaccine narratives.”

A now-removed TikTok video posted in December 2020 went viral after the user discussed his own reasoning for not getting the vaccine. 

“You’re telling me in 40 years there has been no vaccine for HIV…no vaccine for cancer, no vaccine for the common cold. Yet in one year we’ve developed a vaccine for COVID-19 and you want me to take that… thanks, but no thanks,” the user said, according to the ISD report.

However, despite the video’s initial removal, the sound was still available for users to utilize for their own videos. According to the ISD report, the top 25 videos on the audio were viewed a collective 16.7 million times. TikTok has since removed or limited the view of the videos and audios shared in the report.

According to TikTok’s community guidelines, the app “prohibits content that is false or misleading, including misinformation related to COVID-19, vaccines, and anti-vaccine disinformation more broadly.”

“We strive to promote an authentic TikTok experience by limiting the spread of misleading content, including audio, and promoting authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines across our app,” a spokesperson said, according to NBC. “Misinformation is an industry-wide challenge, and we are grateful for reports that help us take action on violations.”

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