TikTok’s STEM feed fails to address the app’s biggest issues | digital trends

TikTok has announced plans to launch a dedicated feed hosting STEM (Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering) content. The company says that it will “serve as a destination for those looking to further immerse themselves in those enriching topics.”

The social media titan notes that the feed will help aspiring young minds discover productive content. And to make sure the content featured in this dedicated STEM section is accurate and trustworthy, the company is also doubling down on its partnership with Poynter and the Common Sense network.

Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

TikTok is implementing a dual checkpoint system for content posted to the STEM feed in an attempt to ensure that the information is credible and does not end up misleading a young audience. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s also hard to ignore the fact that the platform is also doing it to get more attention with such content.

In its official press release, TikTok says that videos with STEM-related hashtags have amassed more than 110 billion videos so far. With hindsight, one would think that these educational science videos would help dispel some science-related misinformation. But given the current state of the misinformation pandemic thriving on TikTok, it seems the resources could be invested elsewhere.

A deeply troubled story

Illustration of young users addicted to their smartphones.
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I’m not just talking about politically motivated propaganda content or harmful videos related to social welfare. Over the past three years, various agencies and experts have highlighted TikTok’s shortcomings in curbing its hoax and fake news problem through in-depth research and analysis.

Just a couple of days ago, research published in the journal BMJ Global Health found that videos covering monkeypox disease information were often inaccurate and of low quality by standards set by the Journal of the American Medical Association. (NEVER).

One of the easiest ways to discover content on a particular trend or topic is to use the hashtag system. It’s faster and free of algorithmic shenanigans because the platform’s recommendation system tracks and serves videos at multiple points of interest. The research team relied on the hashtags and found that not a single video out of the 2,462 analyzed met all of JAMA’s criteria.

While videos posted by board-certified physicians and science communicators were found to contain accurate information, those posted by the general public fared the worst. Overall, videos that talk about monkeypox scored 39.56 out of 80 on the DISCERN scale and a worrying 1.93 out of 4 on the JAMA scale.

To give an idea of ​​the impact of such dubious content. the videos studied as part of the research had more than 11,000 likes on average. However, this is not the first such finding to call attention to TikTok’s failure to curb the spread of potentially harmful content aligned with science, mental health and wellness on its viral social platform.

Investigation exposes TikTok’s flaws

Illustration of profile pictures on a social media platform.
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Just take a look at some recent research findings, and most of them affect young minds who are also the target audience for the STEM feed:

  1. Research from the University of Vienna found that nearly three-quarters of videos posted by influencers discussing food and drink on social media platforms like TikTok do not comply with the protocols established by the World Health Organization for children, since the items sold by them contained a worrisome. lots of sugar, fat and salt. Notably, most of these videos covered foods that cannot be marketed to children.
  2. Research published in PLOS Journal, which studied videos covering 10 hashtags, each with more than a billion views, found that TikTok glorifies a toxic diet culture among teens and young adults that lacks proper expert guidance or information from precise health. “Every day, millions of teens and young adults receive content on TikTok that paints a highly unrealistic and inaccurate picture of food, nutrition, and health,” says one of the researchers.
  3. An analysis published in the BMJ found that fast food and soft drink companies indirectly employ influencers and young users to market their unhealthy foods that are high in salt, fat and sugar using tricks such as creating a social challenge, stickers, filters and exclusive special offers. Effects with brand images.
  4. Research published in the journal Tobacco Control analyzed videos depicting vaping or e-cigarette use that amassed more than 1.5 billion views. The team found that 63% of them portrayed e-cigarette use in a positive light, while 35% of those videos were attached to a misleading “lifestyle and acceptability” theme.
  5. Similar to e-cigarettes, other research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that a staggering 98% of videos that talk about alcohol portrayed it in a positive light.
  6. The BJUI Compass investigation found that TikTok is a minefield of problematic content covering the detection of prostate conquest. When tested against national screening guidelines, all TikTok videos were found to be of low to moderate quality in terms of credible health information and moderate to high levels of misinformation.

TikTok needs a change of focus

Artist's rendering of young users hooked on their phones.
Generated with Dall-E 2 / OpenAI

In recent quarters, TikTok has taken steps to ensure that its young audience is safe on the platform, especially when it comes to personal safety when it comes to communicating with strangers. Family controls have also been tightened, and adapting algorithmic recommendations based on age verification is also a welcome step.

However, the harsh reality is that most of the restrictions implemented by TikTok can also be circumvented relatively easily. A STEM feed is definitely commendable, as it instills the necessary scientific temperament in the young user base, while also offering them an avenue away from engaging with harmful content.

However, there are more pressing issues related to the direct physical and mental well-being of your young audience that need to be addressed first. Along with the likes of Snapchat and Instagram, TikTok’s name has already appeared in analyzes linking youth fentanyl overdose deaths to social media use.

It doesn’t take much brainstorming to conclude that TikTok needs to solve the most pressing problems with the proliferation of harmful content, especially for the millions of its young users, before starting to teach a generation of social media experts. . users how to solve algebra problems.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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