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TikTok: AI counterfeits, abuse and misinformation pushed to young voters

Legend, Misinformation about Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak among content promoted on young voters’ TikTok feeds

Young voters in key election battlegrounds are being recommended fake AI-generated videos featuring party leaders, misinformation and clips full of abusive comments, the BBC has found.

As TikTok emerges as a new social media battleground this election, political parties have launched a meme war on the app in an effort to reach its audience of young voters.

But a BBC project to investigate content promoted by social media algorithms has revealed – alongside amusing montages – that young people on TikTok are being exposed to misleading and divisive content. It’s shared by everyone from students and political activists to comedians and anonymous bot-like accounts.

Videos which have racked up hundreds of thousands of views have fueled unfounded rumors that a major scandal caused Rishi Sunak to call a snap election and the baseless claim that Sir Keir Starmer was responsible for the failed prosecution of serial pedophile Jimmy Savile.

  • Author, Marianne Spring
  • Role, Disinformation journalist and social media correspondent

Fake AI-generated satirical clips show Rishi Sunak declaring: “Please don’t vote us out, we would be truly eviscerated!” and making claims without evidence about how the Tory leader spends public money – including how he will send his comrades “tons of dosh”.

Video caption, Watch: Marianna Spring explains the Undercover Voters project in 60 seconds

Other AI-generated videos share misleading claims about its national service pledge for 18-year-olds, suggesting the youths would be sent to current war zones in Ukraine and Gaza.

Some of it is described as satire or parody in the captions, but comments suggest some users are unsure which claims are factual.

TikTok told the BBC it had increased its investment in tackling misinformation during the UK general election, including adding a fact-checking expert to existing resources and using AI labeling technology.

Legend, In a satirical deepfake, Rishi Sunak appeared to say he would be ‘really gutted’ if he lost – but some users weren’t sure if it was real

The fictional profiles represent a range of voters in conflicting constituencies across the UK, giving insight into the content being promoted to different types of people. Profiles are private, without friends. They simply like, follow and watch content relevant to their character traits informed by Natcen research.

I looked at the profiles of three of these fictitious voters in the former ‘red wall’ constituency of Bishop Auckland, a Labor Party target currently held by the Conservatives – and where our illegal voters are younger.

Their social media feeds revealed that while other sites also saw a surge of political content, it was TikTok that had the liveliest conversation, particularly among younger voters.

TikTok has been booming since the last election. According to media regulator Ofcom, it is the fastest growing news source in the UK for the second year running in 2023 – used in this way by 10% of adults. One in ten adolescents say it is their most important source of information.

TikTok engages a new generation in the democratic process. Whether you use the social media app or not, what happens on its site could shape narratives about the election and its candidates, including in ways that might be unfounded.

Content promoted by Undercover Voter’s character Jack, a disgruntled 31-year-old, includes TikToks misrepresenting remarks made by Labor politicians in speech bubbles. These include comments on immigration, transgender rights, Brexit – and false claims that the shadow international development secretary has called for “abolishing the military”.

Legend, One video referenced the unfounded story that Sir Keir Starmer was involved in the decision not to prosecute serial pedophile Jimmy Savile.

Other videos Jack posted on his feed included clips containing threats in comments about Rishi Sunak’s ‘euthanasia’ and racist remarks about him.

Messages such as “vote for reform UK” were repeatedly shared in the comments of many videos, far more than those I have seen in favor of any other party. TikTok users began to notice the comments, with many calling the posters “reform robots”, suggesting they could be fake automated accounts.

I contacted some of the commenters who had photos and names on their profiles, and they told me they were real people based in the UK, with no official affiliation with Reform UK and no encouragement or instruction from the party. But others were anonymous, without a profile picture or numeric username — common characteristics of fake accounts — and did not respond to my messages.

Legend, Repeated comments in support of Reform UK have earned the nickname “reform bots”

Whether they’re real people or not, their comments can make it seem like their preferred party has more support.

Another Undercover Voter character based in Bishop Auckland, Chloe, 25, was created to have no prior interest in politics. But around one in ten posts on his TikTok feed was a political meme or funny video, including official content from the Labor Party, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK.

These include Rishi Sunak’s first TikTok on the new Conservative National Service account, clarifying that it does not force all 18-year-olds to join the army.

They also include a video of Cilla Black singing Surprise Surprise from the official Labor Party profile – with a caption reading “POV: Rishi Sunak is coming on your 18th birthday to send you off to war”.

Legend, One article claimed without evidence that the election was called because a scandal surrounding Rishi Sunak was “about to break”.

A third undercover voter named Louise – in her 50s and politically undecided – was pushed to use more TikToks targeting political leaders with abusive comments, as well as satirical montages and parody videos about political announcements such as national service.

I tracked down some of the people behind the videos and messages presented to our undercover voters.

A 16-year-old from the south of England, who made a satirical montage of that first Rishi Sunak TikTok on the national service, said she was surprised at how quickly her content took off.

“I didn’t create this account specifically for the elections and the reason I created TikTok in the first place was just as a joke – I didn’t expect to get over 400,000 bloody views,” he said. she declared, adding that she was not affiliated with any account. left and received no money for creating the TikTok.

“Social networks are today, in my opinion, the only platform allowing young people to express themselves. »

She said she knew satirical content can be “controversial” and understood how her video “could mislead people”, but she hoped people could understand it was meant to be a bit of fun .

Alongside the video, some users had posted threatening comments against Mr Sunak, but the 16-year-old said she did not think anyone would actually want to harm a politician.

Legend, There are 24 illegal voters spread across eight constituencies across the UK. For this story, we looked at three in Bishop Auckland

Dozens of other users I’ve messaged who are creating this content are also in their late teens or early 20s and want to get involved in creating political videos to engage others people their age in elections.

They all tell me that even though they support a political party, they have not been paid for their positions and are not officially affiliated with any of the campaigns.

One politics student told me that they “don’t worry about misleading people because parties mislead others with their opinions about other parties.”

Another Coventry-based person, who shares his videos on Reform UK, tells me he hopes to “increase their popularity unofficially” and says he created his account in February. He says he is a member of the party and did not receive any money to make his TikToks.

He worries that satirical content – ​​including his own – could unintentionally mislead people on TikTok. His account was restricted by TikTok for posting spam.

A TikTok spokesperson told the BBC it had increased its investment “in efforts to ensure reliable information can be found on TikTok”, launching a “UK Election Center with a fact-checking expert ” and adopting “cutting-edge AI labeling technology.” “.

He also said he was introducing “more policies to aggressively counter foreign interference in elections” and that he removed 97% of videos containing misinformation about elections and civic issues before anyone viewed them.

You can learn more about the Undercover Voters Project on Sunday’s Newscast episode here.

News Source : www.bbc.com
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