tiktok election

Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

TikTok fails to detect election misinformation, doesn’t penalize repeat distributors

In a Media Matters study, TikTok failed to detect 70% of election misinformation uploaded to its platform from a dummy account

  • According to a new Media Matters study, TikTok appears to be unprepared to detect election misinformation and isn’t meaningfully penalizing repeat distributors of such content. 

    The day before the midterm elections, Media Matters conducted a study testing TikTok’s ability to detect basic election misinformation and documented the consequences applied to an account that violated the platform’s community guidelines. Our findings show how TikTok struggles to detect harmful election misinformation and allows repeat distributors of that misinformation to keep posting without any substantial penalty.

    TikTok’s moderation system is supposed to identify and remove misinformation on both public and private accounts because both are governed by the same community guidelines and standards. Ultimately, TikTok failed to detect 70% of election misinformation originally created by right-wing media or other TikTok users and uploaded to its platform from a dummy account created by Media Matters. TikTok also let the account continue uploading content after multiple community guideline violations, even allowing the reuploading of content that TikTok had previously flagged and removed from the same account. 

    To test TikTok’s ability to detect misinformation from a private account, Media Matters uploaded 10 videos containing election misinformation that seemingly violated TikTok’s policies. (The videos were uploaded to a private account with no followers to prevent the misinformation from spreading at all.) Of the videos, 9 of them were uploaded without any initial detection, 2 were removed after two hours, and on Election Day, the rest remain. In spite of these violations, the account is still able to post new content.

    TikTok removed the following videos:

    • An Infowars clip of Alex Jones claiming that there is a “lot of election fraud” that is “one-sided by the Democrats.” This video was immediately flagged and removed for “hateful behavior.” 
    • A TikTok from another user claiming there is a voting location that only allows votes for Democrats. This video stayed up for two hours before it was removed for violating TikTok’s “integrity and authenticity” policies.
    • An Infowars clip of host Owen Shroyer discussing election fraud and saying that the election conspiracy theory movie 2000 Mules "showed how cheating happened in the 2020 election with the drop boxes.” Text displayed on the screen reading “Infowars” and the link to the website are visible in the video. This video remained up for two hours before it was removed for violating TikTok’s “integrity and authenticity” policies.

    TikTok took no action against the following videos:

    • A screenshot of a Gateway Pundit headline claiming that “Democrat Ballot Traffickers Will Be Given Free Reign” in the midterm elections.
    • A screenshot of a Gateway Pundit headline claiming that “Antifa in Portland Is Boasting about Committing Regular Voter Fraud.”
    • A clip of Steve Bannon claiming that Democrats are “going to pull every trick in the book” to try to “steal” the midterm elections.
    • A meme from a previous election misinformation report showing Democrats emerging as zombies for early voting.
    • A clip from the election conspiracy theory movie 2000 Mules (which is also a search term blocked on TikTok) explaining ballot “mules” — people “picking up ballots and running them to the drop boxes.”
    • A screenshot of a post with the text saying, “I am going to vote GOP across the board as I must, but I have absolutely no doubt elections are rigged and we will ‘lose’!”
    • A clip of Stop the Steal founder Ali Alexander on Infowars claiming the Democrats “want to steal the election through the delay.” 

    It appears that TikTok’s approach to moderation consists of inconsistently removing the limited violative content it can identify without addressing the larger crisis of repeat offenders who spread misinformation.

    To make sure this wasn’t an isolated incident, Media Matters reviewed three accounts reported on in a previous piece highlighting election misinformation on TikTok. While the individual videos mentioned in the piece were removed by TikTok, the accounts remain up on the platform — and have continued to spread misinformation. 

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters created a private account with no followers, so as not to spread misinformation to actual users. 

    On November 7, Media Matters initially uploaded 10 TikTok videos containing election misinformation as detailed above. Only 1 video was immediately removed, and two hours later, 2 more videos were removed. 

    On November 8, Media Matters tested whether the account was still able to upload content, even successfully reuploading content that was found in violation of TikTok’s community guidelines and previously removed.