TikTok sees a surge of misleading videos claiming to show Ukraine invasion A flurry of conflict-themed videos has inundated TikTok, sending countless videos depicting military action unrelated to the war in Ukraine to millions of viewers.

TikTok sees a surge of misleading videos that claim to show the invasion of Ukraine

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Millions of people are experiencing the war in Ukraine on TikTok, but misleading and fake videos of the conflict have flooded the platform, and the company has struggled with getting a handle on it. NPR's Bobby Allyn takes a closer look at how TikTok is changing views of the conflict.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Quinn Poseley is a 20-year-old student at the University of Southern California. Lately, when he's been opening TikTok, he's been seeing a lot of videos portraying the war in Ukraine. There's just one problem. Many of them are repurposing old images of different conflicts.

QUINN POSELEY: I've seen videos that are from Crimea in like 2014 that are just old, and they're acting like they're happening right now. I've seen photos and stuff that are just straight-up Palestine.

ALLYN: On TikTok, people scroll quickly through a feed of videos recommended by the app's algorithm. Posley says if something looks off, he usually just moves past it fast and moves on with life.

POSELEY: You're getting, you know, 15 videos in 30 seconds. It's hard to stop and try and think about everything critically.

ALLYN: There are no numbers on how widespread Ukraine misinformation is on TikTok. I talked to a dozen other students at USC. We scrolled through the app together, saw plenty of fitness, skateboarding and cooking posts, but only a single video from Ukraine. Still, TikTok researcher Abbie Richards worries about the impression fake war videos are having on young users.

ABBIE RICHARDS: They haven't necessarily experienced a geopolitical conflict on this scale, and TikTok is where a lot of people, especially younger people, are going for their news and for their information and for their outlook on the world.

ALLYN: She pulls out her phone to offer an example.

RICHARDS: You can hear some bombs dropping, the sound of a plane flying over. And the video is a target on like a kind of sniper view.

ALLYN: It's hard to tell exactly who uploaded this video.

RICHARDS: It's from an account called Ukraine206, and it's simply just hashtagged with Ukraine.

ALLYN: In recent days, it's racked up more than 7 million views, but...

RICHARDS: It's actually footage from a video game.

ALLYN: Researchers like Richards have a long list of examples like this - hyper-realistic video game footage, old footage, war movie clips all refashioned on TikTok to appear as if they were just taken in Ukraine. Why are people creating fake Ukraine footage? Richards says there's no simple answer. Sometimes it's to chase views, likes or money. When the war started, researchers found that people were pretending to be doing live TikTok videos from Ukraine and asking for donations. Some were scams.

RICHARDS: It's hard to really assign a motive to a lot of the misinformation, but it does seem to be connected oftentimes to grifting.

ALLYN: TikTok says it's ramped up efforts to catch misleading war-related videos since the conflict broke out. A TikTok spokeswoman says misinformation that causes harm is removed from the platform. But a lot of these fake videos aren't clearly causing harm, says Ciaran O'Connor. He's with the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

CIARAN O'CONNOR: So much of this kind of content and this kind of activity falls within the gray zone.

ALLYN: The way TikTok is designed creates something of a Catch-22 when it comes to trying to fact-check videos. Sam Gregory is with the human rights network Witness.

SAM GREGORY: The ways we might encourage someone to verify a video - look at it carefully. Try and work out the location and the source. Maybe go and try and find alternative sources of the app and then return. All of those things are interpreted as attention.

ALLYN: Meaning if you linger for a while on, say, a fake video of the war or rewatch it several times, that sends a signal to TikTok that you want more similar content. Now, not all videos on TikTok are duping people. Some Ukrainians have been delivering daily on-the-ground updates. College student Posley says those are the kind of TikTok videos he appreciates.

POSELEY: It gives average people in Ukraine and, you know, wherever else the conflict might be happening, gives them an opportunity to project their experiences to the world with no middleman. They can just do it. They can just show people what's happening to them right then and there.

ALLYN: But researchers say if most time on TikTok is spent watching fake videos of war, that does little to add to a person's understanding of a conflict. Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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