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TikTok, the hugely popular Chinese social network with more than 700 million active users worldwide, is not immune to misinformation. But while Facebook and Twitter have flagged some accounts as potentially biased or unreliable, TikTok lets manipulative videos show up in its users’ feeds. And this is particularly the case with the situation in Syria where pro-Russian propaganda is in full swing.
In this episode of Info or Intox, Alexandre Capron returns to a video showing a woman standing in the middle of the rubble, crying. Alarms sound in the background and as the camera moves, it shows people making their way through the debris. This woman shouts into the camera, “Mr. Trump, please! Please stop this!” The text added by a TikTok publication to the video indicates that the woman would ask Donald Trump to prevent President Joe Biden from “harming the innocent”, and therefore that the American president would be responsible for these bombings.
This video has had over 500,000 likes on TikTok. But on closer inspection, the exact context has absolutely nothing to do with it: the video was taken in July 2019, even though Joe Biden was not even a presidential candidate, let alone president.
This type of misinformation is particularly common on TikTok: this is what has noticed Sophia Kathryn aka @florida_sophia (her full name has been changed to preserve her identity), a student at Columbia University in New York. She was particularly interested in the Soapbox account.
Soapbox regularly posts anti-American and often misleading content, particularly on the situation in Syria. The media is part of the Maffick group, which also includes the media “In the now” and “Wasted”. According to CNN, which has been able to see the group’s registration documents, Maffick is 51% owned by Russia Today, Russia’s main public broadcaster. Its director is Anissa Nouai, a former journalist for Russia Today.
On Facebook and Twitter, the account was flagged as “Russian state-controlled media”. TikTok, however, did not put out such a warning. For its part, Soapbox, has always denied any Russian interference, claiming to be an “independent” media, and sued Facebook in the summer of 2020 for having forced the platform to display this label.