What Is News On TikTok?

Steve Rosenbaum
3 min readDec 11, 2023

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, more Americans, especially younger adults, are getting their news on TikTok. The share of U.S. adults who regularly do so increased from 3% in 2020 to 14% in 2023. And for those who are regular TikTok users, 43% say they get their news on the site.

When the report came out, one thing was clear: Consumers were getting their news in a new way.

The data is important and forces us to ask the question: What exactly is news in the new digital world?

I went on TikTok and found myself exposed to a stream of information, some from sources I recognize, others from names and individuals presenting news with no way to check sources.

“Elise Stafanik Just Went Viral, here’s why”
Ben Schapiro. Conservative blogger.

“Displaced Palestinians in Gaza waiting to get flour from distribution center”
RT News (Russian-controlled media)

“Woman Jumps to Her Death on Carnival Cruise Ship”
FolkzBrothersTv
(2 / 19/2022)

“London 9/12/2023, pro-Palestine protest London”
NuNews / Jackson Hinkle

In the first two entries, the sources and topics are clear, but the second two are murky and dishonest. The Carnival Cruise line story from March of ’22 is not timely or relevant; it is just clickbait. And the NuNews story is almost impossible to source, other than by the name Jackson Hinkle.

So, who is Jackson Hinkle? Jackson Hinkle is a conservative commentator, appearing on shows like Tucker Carlson’s — and posting TikToks. NuNews doesn’t have any public site or statement about its ideology. Hinkle expressed pride that he referred to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “dictator.”

So, there are two key learnings here. First, Pew Research asked respondents where they got their “news” and reported the findings. It isn’t clear that respondents defined their news with any specificity. So, NuNews, NBC, and People magazine are all in the same bucket. TikTok doesn’t label or define news, so an individual ranting or a news organization with published policies about accuracy and facts both fall in the same bucket.

Critics worry that TikTok’s powerful algorithm could be abused to deliberately spread disinformation or influence public opinion on sensitive topics.

TikTok expands the definition of news by allowing more diverse and creative voices to share their stories and opinions on various topics. TikTok also enables users to access news that is relevant to their interests, preferences, and locations.

TikTok also challenges the definition of news by blurring the lines between entertainment and information and between facts and opinions. The platform also raises questions about the credibility, accuracy, and bias of the sources and content that users encounter there.

“The changing nature of what the public thinks of as news has made the town square much more “chaotic and contradictory,” said Jay Rosen, an associate professor of journalism at New York University and author of the PressThink blog. He told the Washington Post’s Taylor Lorez it has never been easier to be both informed and misinformed about world events. “The internet makes possible much more content, and reaching all kinds of people,” Rosen said. “But it also makes disinformation spread.”

TikTok does not change the definition of news, but rather reflects the changing preferences and behaviors of the audience. TikTok is just one of the many platforms that people use to consume and produce news, and it does not replace the role of traditional media or journalism.

As more people turn to TikTok for news, the platform has struggled to contain misinformation related to topics like the war in Ukraine, abortion, elections, and COVID-19. A recent study by NewsGuard found that almost 20% of videos returned in a TikTok search contained misinformation.

Asked for comment about these findings, a TikTok spokesperson told NewsGuard that TikTok’s Community Guidelines “make clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform. We partner with credible voices to elevate authoritative content.”

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