An international NGO and a university says 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.
he format of TikTok posts makes it easier to create misinformation, experts say -- and harder for users to tell fact from fiction.
Such falsehoods coincide with more than eight million young US citizens being newly eligible to vote in the November 8 elections.
"Just because they [Tik Tok] had these [misinformation] 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.
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.
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. But only a small fraction of the posts were removed for violating the company's integrity policies.
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."