Social media platform TikTok is hosting multiple videos that spread misinformation and falsehoods about the coronavirus, despite a policy change concerning misinformation that the platform announced earlier this month. The videos have hundreds of thousands of views combined, and there even appears to be an auto search suggestion leading to some of these videos.
TikTok, a video platform that has increasingly featured misinformation and conspiracy theories, announced a major update to its community guidelines this month. The revised guidelines include a section on “misleading information,” which states that the platform does “not permit misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public” and that it will “remove misinformation that could cause harm to an individual's health or wider public safety.” The guidelines also say that TikTok will bar videos with “misinformation meant to incite fear, hate, or prejudice” and those with “misinformation that may cause harm to an individual's health, such as misleading information about medical treatments.”
Despite the new policy, a search by Media Matters found multiple videos on TikTok spreading baseless claims and debunked conspiracy theories about an ongoing public health crisis -- the coronavirus outbreak that reportedly originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Specifically, the platform has hosted multiple videos baselessly claiming that the virus was purposely created by the government to wipe people out. In one video, which received at least 8,000 “likes” and 32,000 views, the person speculated that “every 100 years, the government spreads these diseases into animals for population control.” (Media Matters is not linking to videos created by minors to protect their identities.)
Other videos with thousands of combined views made similar claims, such as featuring text saying that “the Chinese government” was “starting a virus as a way for population control” or claiming the outbreak was “really a government biochemical attack” to distract people. Another video said that “people are convinced that China decided to release the virus by ‘accident’ ... as a way of controlling population.”
Additionally, the platform also hosted videos pushing a debunked conspiracy theory that had spread among anti-vaxxers and supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, claiming that the virus was previously created and patented with the involvement of former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. In one video, which received at least 41,000 views and 1,400 likes, a person showed a series of tweets pushing the false claim and said, “The info is out there, guys.”
Another video, from a QAnon account, also pushed the false claim, saying that “a bunch of very fast people got on this immediately” and found that “there are patents held on the coronavirus by a group” connected to Gates, adding that this all allegedly “sheds light on one thing, and that is genetic manipulation of viruses to make them worse than they actually are.” The false video has at least 10,500 views.
Other videos have also shown up on the platform pushing conspiracy theories about Gates and the patent, getting tens of thousands of views and thousands of likes each. In total, videos pushing those patent-Gates conspiracy theories have received more than 160,000 combined views on TikTok.
Some videos with thousands of views have also circulated on the platform pushing a dubiously sourced unverified clip of a supposed Chinese nurse whistleblower. Another video of it, since removed, had nearly 250,000 views and more than 25,000 likes and urged people to “make this blow up” and to “share this.”
According to The Daily Dot, one user also posted multiple videos, since removed, pretending to be a lab technician who had contracted the virus, fooling numerous people on the platform. One user said one of the videos was “putting people like me, with anxiety–really bad anxiety–into a panic mode.”
Additionally, when searching “coronavirus” in TikTok’s search bar, one of the top auto search suggestions that pops up has been “coronavirus conspiracy,” which then leads to some of these videos as results.
Updates (1/29/20 and 1/30/20): This piece has been updated with additional information.