Social media app TikTok on Thursday, 30 April, announced that it had introduced an enhanced feature to allow In-App reporting of any misinformation related to COVID-19, which has been a recurring problem for the platform amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The Chinese firm ByteDance-owned app said on Thursday that it had taken various measures to better fight misinformation on the platform, specially in view of COVID-19.
The reporting feature, which is being rolled out to all the app’s users in a phased manner, allows users to report any content they believe could be intentionally deceptive by selecting the 'Misleading Information' category within the app. This category further has a sub-category for reporting any COVID-related misinformation as well.
Once a user flags any COVID-19 misinformation, it is sent to a “priority moderation queue” manned by an internal ‘Taskforce’ comprising members from various teams across the company and then escalated to third-party fact-checkers.
For the purpose of fact-checking any potential misinformation, TikTok has partnered with Vishvas News, the IFCN-certified fact-checking arm of the Jagran Group.
Additionally, TikTok also announced that it will be inviting proposals for a misinformation research grant of USD 50k (INR 3.5 million), as part of an effort to better understand how and why misinformation spreads on social media and methods to tackle the negative impact of the same.
“Tackling misinformation is just one of the ways we are committed to protecting the safety and integrity of the platform. We continue to work toward improving the app and user experience, and hope these tools around misinformation can help foster a welcoming space for all our users to express their creativity and find joyful, meaningful content on TikTok.”Arjun Narayan, Director Trust & Safety, TikTok
#MatKarForward - An Awareness Initiative
Along with the above measures, TikTok has also launched an initiative called #MatKarForward, which is meant to help raise awareness against the creation and sharing of misinformation.
The video PSA, announcing the launch of the awareness initiative, features celebrities such as Virat Kohli, Kriti Sanon, Ayushmann Khurrana and Sara Ali Khan and is directed by Anurag Basu. It has these celebrities urging social media users to to verify details about a message before forwarding it.
Commenting on the initiative, Nikhil Gandhi, India Head, TikTok said, "Spread of misinformation is an industry-wide concern and a shared responsibility. As a leading short-format video platform where users enjoy the freedom of creative expression, we continue to take proactive steps to prioritise the safety and well-being of our communities. #MatKarForward is part of our ongoing initiatives to raise awareness around the spread of misinformation and to maintain a safe and positive environment for our users.”
TikTok’s Problem Child – Fake News
TikTok has long been suffering from an deluge of fake news, which was only exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to an “infodemic” as well.
Earlier in April, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had asked TikTok and Helo to remove any users on their platforms who have been found spreading fake news and misinformation.
This came after a report by Voyager Infosec, a Delhi-based digital lab, which studied TikTok and said that the platform had seen a surge in fake videos aimed at misleading Indian Muslims regarding COVID-19.
According to the MeitY memo sent to TikTok and Helo and accessed by The Quint, the government body had asked it to not only ensure that the users be removed, but to also preserve their information so that it can be shared with law enforcement agencies in case such a request is made in the future to help them with any possible investigations.
The Quint had also reported on the fake news outbreak on TikTok after COVID-19, with numerous illustrations of the same.
Of some of the most viral claims on TikTok were rumours of meat-eating being the cause of coronavirus, videos displaying lack of belief in social distancing despite the crisis and claims about how long coronavirus persists in the air.
Popular TikTok influencer Mridul Madhok was one among many who falsely claimed coronavirus can only stay airborne for a maximum of eight hours and since people had been asked to stay home for a period of 14 hours, from 7 am to 9 pm on 22 March (‘Janata Curfew’), the virus would die on 23 March. His video had over five million views.
The Quint had also come across a video on the platform which claimed, falsely once again, that PM Modi has coronavirus and that media in the country is hiding the fact.
Another viral video stated confidently and falsely that coronavirus can be killed by drinking hot water with salt-vinegar because it stays put for four days in the throat before it reaches the lungs.
The report by Voyager Infosec mentioned earlier that they had found examples of videos on the platform that quoted religious texts to encourage Muslims to not stop shaking hands and to continue visiting religious places despite the lockdown, as well as reports which claimed that coronavirus cannot kill Muslims.
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