Content warning: This article includes brief discussion of sexual violence. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which can be reached at 800-656-4673 or online via hotline.rainn.org.
A new Media Matters study of videos under the “#April24” hashtag on TikTok found that misinformation about the “National Rape Day” hoax appears more prominently on the platform’s top search results than factual videos refuting it.
A debunked viral hoax claiming that April 24 is “National Rape Day” and women need to protect themselves has been going viral on TikTok. Although the company has confirmed that the supposed video which allegedly started the hoax never appeared on the platform, TikTok has done little to correct the subsequent spread of misinformation about the hoax or to address potentially harmful reactions from users. Even more concerning, the unchecked April 24 misinformation now has some users preparing for violence in anticipation of a threat that never existed.
Media Matters analyzed the top 50 TikTok videos under the “#April24” hashtag and found that 48 of them contained misinformation perpetuating the “National Rape Day” hoax. (One video was a general discussion involving similar topics without explicitly giving the hoax credibility, and another video was about an unrelated topic.) These 50 videos did not feature any debunks or factual information about the potentially dangerous hoax spreading on the platform.
As of 5 p.m. EDT on April 22, these 48 misinformation videos had accumulated more than 51 million views.
Based on this sample, it appears that TikTok’s “secretive algorithm” is more frequently serving its users videos about April 24 that perpetuate misinformation instead of correcting it.
TikTok has acknowledged to reporters that the April 24 narrative is a hoax, but the company has yet to implement any substantial measures to correct the misinformation for its own users, a third of whom may be 14 or younger. The April 24 misinformation became so popular that it has even taken off on different social media platforms, prompting Facebook to flag posts about it as “false information.” As of April 23, however, TikTok has not placed an information banner on videos discussing “National Rape Day” to provide users with factual information or support.
Though TikTok should still take steps to correct this hoax, the misinformation has already reached a level of virality that is likely impossible to fully combat less than 24 hours before the hoax’s supposed start. The fact that the top videos for the “#April24” hashtag all appear to be circulating content amplifying the hoax over debunks or credible information is a failure by the platform to support its users and contain the spread of a dangerous hoax.
Media Matters reviewed the top 50 TikTok videos under the hashtag “#April24” as determined by TikTok at 5 p.m. EDT on April 22, 2021. We then determined whether each video promoted the “National Rape Day” event as real, identified the event as a hoax, used the event as a starting point to discuss something else, or was unrelated to the event.