The American Library Association defines digital literacy as an individual’s “ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills” (Schwartzbach, 2022). Digital literacy can range from basic skills, such as using the functionalities of a computer, to the knowledge of using programs such as Microsoft Word (Schwartzbach, 2022). Digital literacy also includes internet safety practices, security and the ability to discern misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation (Schwartzbach, 2022).
As our society gets more technologically progressive, it will be increasingly difficult to identify what is real and what is fake as people get better at legitimizing websites and content. Students and adults report being unable to recognize “fake stories, misinformation, disinformation, and other forms of spin” (Caulfield, 2016). Further, the rise of students and adults using social media platforms to be informed about current events and the news is a concern, especially with the rampant increase of fake news. A Pew Research Study found that “adults under 30 are now almost as likely to trust information from social media sites as they are to trust information from national news outlets” (Liedke & Gottfried, 2022). There are trends of 18-29-year-olds increasingly relying on social media for their news, while adults 50 and older tend to rely on national and local news outlets (Liedke & Gottfried, 2022).
TikTok has been gaining popularity among young adults as a political and news platform. In 2020, 22% of TikTok users used the platform as a new source; in 2022, it increased to 33% (Adgate, 2022). A third of TikTok users report using the app to regularly be informed about the news (Matsa, 2022). Currently, TikTok has limited political messaging restrictions but is not secure against false political information (Adgate, 2022). Notwithstanding, last year, TikTok attempted to prevent misinformation and disinformation by creating an Elections Center to “connect people who engage with election content to authoritative information.” (Adgate, 2022). The Elections Center had “information on where and how to vote with identification being marked that pertained to the midterm elections” (Adgate, 2022). A month later, TikTok implemented new policies verifying government and politician accounts to prevent mishaps (Adgate, 2022). TikTok appears to be cognizant of its political power and influence. However, the Global Witness and the Cybersecurity for Democracy team “found TikTok failed to identify 90% of the twenty political ads (ten each in English and Spanish) that had false and/or misleading claims about the midterm elections” (Adgate, 2022). These results demonstrate that TikTok needs to do more to protect users from disinformation and misinformation, especially in the political sphere.
With the rampant fear of misinformation on TikTok, news outlets are joining the platform to reach young adults by providing their journalistic expertise and fact-checking. In a Reuters institute and University of Oxford study, “around half (49%) of top news publishers are now regularly publishing content on TikTok,” and there are trends of news gaining popularity as Vice World News cultivated 2.6 million followers under a year. (Newman, 2022). The rise of journalistic news on TikTok can be attributed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with “young Ukrainians sharing eyewitness stories of life under bombardment in real-time, and some news providers joining the platform for the first time” (Newman, 2022). News outlets are adopting two strategies to provide reliable news to younger audiences a “creator first strategy” with having younger hosts that are native to the platform to deliver information for relatability, and a “newsroom-led approach, where the story is the star and the talents of a wider group of journalists are showcased” (Newman, 2022). Moreover, TikTok does employ fact-checking organizations to sift through false information, but the magnitude and diversity of languages can make it much more challenging to maintain (Newman, 2022). Despite these efforts, TikTok is slow to provide users who generate trusted news content, which makes finding reliable news sources on the platform more difficult (Newman, 2022).
Tackling disinformation and misinformation on an expansive app such as TikTok takes work. However, TikTok can begin by creating a section within the app dedicated to breaking news that promotes verified reliable sources and journalists for audiences to prevent disinformation. Further, they can add a precursor about the issue of misinfomration and malinformation from content creators on the platform and provide tools to users on how to find accountable resources on the app. For instance, the importance of information sources creators are using to deliver information on the platform and emphasizing trusting users who provide academic resource and citations. Likewise, TikTok should implement a flagging option based on reliability to ensure that the creator can be trusted journalistically (Newman, 2022). TikTok can also boost important news by being more transparent about removing or blocking news so their algorithms do not flag political protest footage (Newman, 2022).