Is TikTok becoming the main source of information for younger generations?
Young people all over the world use TikTok to get information, for example, about the war in Ukraine. But the algorithm of the Chinese video app favors, among other things, fake videos that are often viewed millions of times, according to the German news magazine Der Spiegel.
A survey by U.K. regulator Ofcom from 2021/2022 on adult news consumption habits showed that TikTok is the fastest growing source of information. Accordingly, the study looked at news consumption across TV, radio, print, social media, podcasts, other websites/apps and magazines, and concluded that compared to one percent in 2020, seven percent of UK adults now use TikTok as a news source.
In the U.S. it is already 40% of GenZ who use either TikTok or Instagram daily for various search queries, which again Google is not particularly pleased about, according to TechCrunch. To Business Insider, Google confirms this statistic: “We face robust competition from an array of sources, including general and specialized search engines, as well as dedicated apps.” Similarly, for those between the ages of 12 and 15, the top news source is Instagram, at 29%, and YouTube and TikTok, each at 28%.
Although young people agree that social media news is less credible, they still consume it because it offers a range of opinions on current issues. Ofcom’s group director of strategy and research Yih-Choung Teh confirmed that in the agency’s press release.
Image by Ofcom
"WarTok" and the Impact of the Politicization of TikTok
While the platform has long been known for dance and comedy videos, this has been changed drastically since the start of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainians, including soldiers, want to show first-hand what is happening in their country. And the warlike conflict is a popular topic that generates clicks. In March 2022, various news media headlined “WarTok”, including German public broadcaster WDR and fake news monitoring website NewsGuard.
TikToker Alina Volik (@alina__volik) is one of many examples who want to show “The truth about Ukraine” using the platform to do so. The 18-year-old had 22,000 subscribers before the war in her country; today more than 77k follow her on TikTok. Among other things, she published videos about her packed emergency backpack or sirens in the morning and gave insights into her new everyday life: empty shopping shelves or destroyed streets and houses.
In the meantime, the Ukrainian girl lives in Spain, as she had to flee her home country Zaporizhzhya. Additionally, she shares travel videos through, for example, the South of France with her followers.
But while users get unfiltered information and thus an authentic impression of the situation, TikTok is also filtered with disinformation. As a rule, this (fake) news, which is intended to influence public opinion, comes from Russia, according to WDR and the fact-checker NewsGuard, which regularly monitors false information that goes viral from five countries on a private initiative.
Analysis of the website shows that in the context of the conflict and for search queries such as “Ukraine” or “Donbas,” the first 20 results suggested by TikTok include several videos with both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian misinformation or disinformation (NewsGuard, March 2022).
TikTok launched their TikTok Transparency Center back in 2020, promising insights into the AI-driven system behind the video platform. The mission: to “foster creativity and bring joy,” saying a big concern of the app was “a responsible, equal, and open build on.” However, as the website shows, the last transparency updates were in 2021, however, reports on various topics such as community guidelines are being published at regular intervals.
What Does it Mean for Brands That TikTok Is Becoming an Important Source of Information?
The facts and figures just mentioned make it abundantly clear how relevant it is also for brands to reflect on content on TikTok and thus every social network and online source. But while a large proportion of young people (65%) find out about the current news situation by talking to their families, it is an important finding that users are primarily looking for opinion and classification of topics on social platforms. They want to understand how the world works and, in addition to their families, are increasingly guided by the attitudes of their favorite influencers.
In addition to the war in Ukraine, other much-discussed topics include Black Lives Matter, the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate, and rights for the LGBTQIA+ community. Likewise, it is clear that social media can certainly influence social and historical events and inspire and mobilize people.
But while awareness of the bad and sometimes “dangerous” sides of the platforms is essential, interest and trust in social media can also be used as an opportunity for brands, NGOs, educational institutions, and public administrators to reach and inform young people.
In 2022, videos on self-care and mindfulness, creative thinking, health, and sustainability are particularly trending. Brands whose values are located in these themes can create a TikTok profile and launch an educational campaign. Be it a social message or a commercial information you want to communicate, you will find an interested audience on TikTok.
The reasons for such investments and collaboration with TikTok influencers are divers. TikTok has proven that the potential of the app is great and the interest in creating a safe and educational space is there. Brands and businesses can build authority and improve their reputation in the long run, through original and engaging content. At the same time, they should stay abreast of what trends are going viral on the platform and how they can influence their communication strategy. Of course, one never wants to be associated with accusations of disinformation. That is why we recommend subscribing to NewsGuard, for example, which is also trusted by publications such as The Guardian, or networking with Kolsquare on LinkedIn, because that is where we regularly post news on all things social media and influencer marketing.