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TikTok a hotbed of US election misinformation, analysts say

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The format of TikTok posts makes it easier to create misinformation, experts say

The format of TikTok posts makes it easier to create misinformation, experts say – Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File JUSTIN SULLIVAN

Natalie WADE

Election misinformation is spreading on TikTok ahead of the US midterms despite the company’s policies — and watchdogs are concerned about its effect on young voters as more Americans use the platform as a source of news.

Posts spreading unfounded claims of voter fraud, falsehoods about mail-in ballots and misleading videos about different state laws have found a home on the immensely popular app.

Perhaps more troubling: TikTok has approved paid political advertisements containing blatant misinformation, a practice the company said in 2019 it had banned.

“Hackers can easily change the election results! Don’t bother voting in the midterms,” says one such ad.

It was one of several created by researchers at the non-profit Global Witness and New York University to test TikTok’s prohibition on paid political posts. The social media company approved 90 percent of ads the team submitted containing election misinformation.

“We were relatively shocked by that result,” said Jon Lloyd, a senior advisor at Global Witness, who described TikTok as “bottom of the class” compared to other social media platforms tackling election misinformation.

Such falsehoods coincide with more than eight million young US citizens being newly eligible to vote in the November 8 elections.

TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, has rules aimed at limiting the spread of conspiracy theories about elections. But experts question how effective they are.

“Just because they had these policies in place, it doesn’t mean that they’re being enforced well,” Lloyd said, arguing that TikTok’s business model is based on “amplifying and driving people” towards content.

Although that criticism could be aimed at all social networks, a Pew Research Center survey found more than a quarter of Americans aged 18-29 regularly get news from TikTok — despite a sizeable minority of videos presented in search results containing misinformation, according to media monitor NewsGuard.

The platform’s powerful algorithm makes it possible for videos to quickly garner thousands of views, even without an established following.

And the sheer volume of content on TikTok makes it “more likely that users in general — especially more young, impressionable users — are going to come into contact with potentially divisive, polarizing, objectionable content,” said Matt Navarra, a social media industry analyst and consultant based in Britain.

– Falsehoods slip through cracks –

TikTok removes content that could mislead on “civic processes, public health or safety,” according to its integrity policies — including falsehoods about voting. The platform also prohibits campaign fundraising and recently launched an in-app election center.

“We take our responsibility to protect the integrity of our platform and elections with utmost seriousness,” a spokesperson for the company told AFP in an emailed statement. “We continue to invest in our policy, safety and security teams to counter election misinformation.”

However, baseless claims of ballot fraud and conspiracy theories shared by midterm election candidates are still circulating. It is not the first time TikTok has been used to spread election falsehoods.

Earlier this year, influencer campaigns on the platform played a role in the Philippines’ presidential contest. In Germany, accounts posed as parliament and public officials, and in Kenya, the app was a den for propaganda, hate speech and misinformation.

In the second quarter of 2022, TikTok removed 113 million videos for violating its community guidelines — an amount that represents about one percent of all videos uploaded to the platform. A small fraction of the posts were removed for violating the company’s integrity policies.

Reminded of how platforms such as Facebook have served as vectors for misinformation, including baseless claims from former president Donald Trump that the 2020 US election was “stolen” from him, analysts express little faith in TikTok’s incentive and ability to address the problem.

“That a company can actually make Facebook look good when it comes to misinformation and disinformation is an amazing achievement,” said NewsGuard CEO Steven Brill.

– Perfect breeding ground –

The format of TikTok posts makes it easier to create misinformation, experts say — and harder for users to tell fact from fiction.

“It’s very quick, very easy, very simple to create content and to build a substantial following,” Navarra said.

Posts are short, highly edited and often contain music, captions and voiceovers that analysts say make it hard to understand nuance.

NewsGuard senior analyst Jack Brewster said the threat to the democratic process was particularly stark, given TikTok’s young audience and many users’ inexperience in identifying credible information.

“If young people are searching for election news on the platform, the videos are inherently short, so context is often lost,” he said. “There’s little to no information often about the sources.”

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Threads Looks Set to be Made Available to European Users Next Week

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Threads Looks Set to be Made Available to European Users Next Week

Good news with EU social media fans, with Threads looking set for a December 14th launch in the region, just in time to capitalize on holiday engagement.

As reported by The Verge, EU Instagram users can now access a countdown timer at www.threads.net, which seemingly indicates the exact time for the upcoming EU launch. Meta hasn’t made any official announcement, but the countdown clock is only visible to European users, while EU users can also search ‘ticket’ in the Instagram app to find a digital invitation to Threads.

Which replicates the original Threads launch back in July, which included similar Easter eggs and indicators pointing to the launch date (like the above).

The EU launch of Threads has been delayed by evolving EU data privacy regulations, which, due to the timing of the implementation of these new rules, has put additional development burden on the Threads team to ensure compliance with the new parameters. Amid the initial Threads launch, Instagram (and Threads) chief Adam Mosseri said that it could take “many months” for Threads to reach EU users due to these additional complications.

But we have since seen indicators that Threads is coming.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Meta had an established plan to launch Threads to EU users in December, while app researchers have found various references to an upcoming “Threads EU Launch” in the app’s code.

Threads EU launch

Given the various strands of evidence, it does indeed seem likely that European users will get access to the app next week. And again, with social media usage increasing during the holiday break, that would also provide the best opportunity for Meta to capitalize on its opportunities.

Which are seemingly on the rise. As more people turn away from Elon Musk’s X project, largely due to Musk’s own divisive commentary, they’re seeking a real-time social alternative, and for many Threads is already filling that void.

That’s especially true for journalists, a common target of Musk’s attacks, who are now establishing new networks within the Threads ecosphere. And while live sports engagement remains high on X, Threads is also making a push to win over more sports communities, even placing ads courtside during the new NBA in-season tournament showcase in Las Vegas.

Threads NBA ad

That’s seemingly prompting more sports fans to post in the app, which will expand again with the arrival of potentially millions more users in the EU region.

So how many more users can Threads expect to gain as a result of its European expansion?

Based on Meta’s EU disclosure data on active users, Instagram currently serves some 259 million monthly active users in Europe.

Instagram’s total, official user count is 1 billion MAU, while Threads now has over 100 million monthly users. So presumably, around a tenth of active IG users are also signing up to the app, which would mean that, at a rough estimate, we’re set to see around 25.9 million new Threads users incoming, if/when Threads is launched in the EU region.

Which is probably not as many as you might expect, but this is based on rough estimates, as Instagram reportedly has more than a billion actives now, and we don’t know the exact, current user counts of either app.

But either way, it will expand the conversation in the app, and enable more people to take part, which has its own expanded benefits. And with around 60 million X users also in the region, that could see a number of them looking to make the switch.

Which is the real aim here. Meta has created Threads as the X alternative, aiming to scoop up former Twitter cast-offs who are unhappy with Elon’s changes at the app. In order to do that, Threads needs to be available in all regions where X users may be looking to jump ship, so its EU expansion is another critical step in this respect.

It’ll be interesting to see what Threads user numbers rise to over the holiday period, and whether it can indeed become a genuine rival for X in total active engagement.

We’ll keep you updated on any official announcement on the Threads EU launch.



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The best social media hacks to blow up your following in just a year

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The best social media hacks to blow up your following in just a year

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Get viral fast. Plus more social media hacks to grow your accounts.

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X Pitches Advertisers on Audience Reach Opportunities in ‘Q5’

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X Pitches Advertisers on Audience Reach Opportunities in ‘Q5’

X is making a push to win over advertisers in the holiday season, by promoting its opportunities in “Q5”, which covers the post-Christmas to mid-January period.

As explained by X:

During [Q5], we see reduced CPMs and cost-per-conversion as consumers shop for post-holiday deals and products to support their New Year’s ambitions. Last year, X saw a 5% reduction in the average CPM and a 27% reduction in the average cost-per-conversion1.

Which could present new opportunity to reach a larger audience with your promotions, if indeed they are engaging on X over the holiday period.

“Q5 is filled with a wide variety of tent-pole moments, ranging from the holidays to sports, entertainment and more. With a surge of engagement around these conversations, your brand can remain relevant to your audiences while driving maximum ROI.

X says that, based on engagement data from last year, there are a lot of potential topics of interest for brands.

X also notes that sports video views are surging in the app, up almost 25% YoY over the past 6 months, while vertical video is also gaining momentum.

“Vertical video is the fastest growing surface on X. Over 100M people around the world are consuming vertical video daily at an average of over 13 minutes per day. On many days, vertical video accounts for around 20% of all time spent on the platform.

Though I would advise some caution in trusting these data points.

In recent months, various questions have been raised as to what X counts as a video “view” versus an impression, which is when a post is shown in-feed.

Technically, X counts video views like this:

“The main X video view metric is triggered when a user watches a video for at least 2 seconds and sees at least 50% of the video player in-view. This applies to View metrics for both uploaded videos and live broadcasts.

But that’s different to the actual view count that’s displayed on posts:

“Anyone who is logged into X who views a post counts as a view, regardless of where they see the post (e.g. Home, Search, Profiles, etc.) or whether or not they follow the author. If you’re the author, looking at your own post also counts as a view.

Even worse, X counts multiple views from the same person in that count:

“Multiple views may be counted if you view a post more than once, but not all views are unique. For example, you could look at a post on web and then on your phone, and that would count as two views.

So you can see how the public view count on video posts can massively overstate how many people actually watched a clip, which could be why X is reporting such big spikes in engagement. It just depends on which “view” metric it’s referring to here, actual views or exposure in stream.

Which makes all of these numbers a little difficult to determine, while X owner Elon Musk and CEO Linda Yaccarino have also continued to amplify misleading engagement stats via their own X profiles, muddying the waters as to what kind of actual reach and engagement you can expect.

And that’s before you consider the concerns that other advertisers have had with their promotions potentially being displayed alongside harmful or offensive content in the app.

But depending on how you feel about these aspects, and where your target audience is active, it could be worth considering X for your post-holiday promotions, as you look to maximize sales activity over the holiday period.

It’s also worth considering that with fewer big-name brands taking prime spots in the app, there may also be additional opportunity to reach people via X promotions.

There may be value, depending on your strategic thinking, though I would be keeping an eye on actual engagement

You can read more of X’s Q5 insights here.



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