I think I am the poster child of social media addiction. Morning routines somehow include 45 minutes of endless Twitter scrolling. My nightly routines are no different because over an hour is dedicated to falling down rabbit holes of petty TikTok drama. This time, however, I am always prepared to be greeted by the soothing voice of a TikTok creator reprimanding me for my extensive app usage.
Regardless of how many hours I have wasted on TikTok and Twitter, I will always come across a post on each platform with over 10,000 likes. And if I had a nickel for every time one of these posts ended up containing factually inaccurate information, I could achieve a world record as the “largest hoarder of five-cent coins.”
Ever since TikTok became the most downloaded social media app in October 2018, the short-form video platform engrained itself in the ranks of legacy social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Since its rise in popularity, TikTok’s website became the most visited site in 2021 and amassed over 1 billion monthly users in 2023. Twitter has not reached the ranks of TikTok in social media presence, yet it has still amassed around 450 million active users each month. With as many active users as this, it is no surprise how commonly I see claims and takes based on false information.
One of the most memorable examples of this occurred back in June 2020. A few posts had started to make the rounds on Black Twitter claiming that Beethoven was Black. Customarily, these tweets were met with an equal number of comedic memes and healthy skepticism. Whenever the latter would arise in the replies of the original tweets, the only bit of evidence that could be mustered up was a couple of sentences from a 2015 opinion article in The Concordian.
I remember this day vividly and can easily reenact my facial expression: a dropped jaw followed by the raising of my left eyebrow. It made no sense to me how an artist as renowned as Beethoven could have his entire identity masked for so long. It made a lot more sense once I did my research, found the source of the initial evidence and concluded that Beethoven was (and is still) probably not Black.
This same “phenomenon” can become a problem on TikTok as well. Reports from the app have appeared in The New York Times with claims ranging from conspiracy theories to fake screenshots from CNN claiming “climate change is seasonal.” TikTok has also “dethroned Google” as the top search engine in the past, according to The Washington Post. When 20% of posts appearing in search results contain misinformation, though, it can become a problem for the app’s young adult and teenage demographic.
Both Twitter and TikTok have a main demographic of young adults and teenagers. So, it is unfortunate to see a generation that was practically raised on social media be susceptible and privy to such misinformation. Even if the claims are careless and become another entry on the Know Your Meme website, there is no denying that the frequency of misinformation can be dire for our generation’s global knowledge.
To remedy the misinformation, Twitter has been utilizing a feature called “Community Notes” (originally “Birdwatch) to allow users to add needed context to inaccurate or misleading tweets since 2021. I think the approach is fundamentally flawed, as it can cause users to misguide the audience in their direction instead. However, it is a step in the right direction for the app that is seemingly running into the ground thanks to Elon Musk.
Thankfully, I can count the number of times I have had to fact-check posts my friends have sent me on my hands, but it is still far too many. I am glad social media apps are starting to take the necessary precautions toward more transparency and fact-checking in posts. Even if these systems are still in need of some fine-tuning, it is commendable to see these popular, young demographic–leaning sites at least attempting to not sway their users down further rabbit holes.
Trey Barrett is a graduate student studying film at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Trey know by emailing him email@example.com.