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Anonymous Telegram channels spread fakes on TikTok to attract audience – IMI study

03.01.2024, 14:03
Photo credits Golib, adrianvidal
Photo credits Golib, adrianvidal

The Ukrainian segment of TikTok spreads pro-Russian disinformation, exacerbating the social tensions, inciting protest sentiments, distrust in the police and the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and undermining the country's financial stability. The vast majority of such TikTok accounts offer users to follow a link to anonymous Telegram channels.

Such are the findings of the IMI study carried out in November 2023.

Fake news posters on TikTok encourage their audience to follow a series of low-quality anonymous Telegram channels with several hundred thousand followers each. These Telegram channels are mostly filled with news pieces reposted from various media outlets in Ukrainian and Russian, interspersed with ads for other Telegram channels, various goods and services such as tobacco products and unlicensed gambling resources. Such "loser channels" also post manipulative surveys, in particular on political topics, and spread misinformation about the events in Ukraine and abroad, sometimes repurposing their own fakes from TikTok.

Such Telegram channels include: "Korespondent UA – Novyny Ukrainy", "Vse Bude Ukraina ??", "Kraina Ukraina ??", "Pravda", "Chas Novyn", "Pershyi Ofitsiynyi", "Ukrainske Dyvo", "Informuye Ukraina", "Radar Raket", "Bayraktar News", "Novyny Ukraina", "Ukraina Vpered". On the whole, they appear to be one system for capitalising on traffic, spreading misleading advertising and emotional fakes.

Most of the fake TikTok videos detected by the IMI were edited from clips of news programs on popular Ukrainian TV channels and voiced using the voices of well-known anchors, digitally forged. All such videos feature bright captions in large letters that duplicate the text being read aloud. In some places, the captions cover the anchors' faces in the frame, which makes it difficult to see the inconsistency between the articulation and the sound. Such inconsistency is often obvious, which betrays right away that the video is fake.

According to the IMI researchers, each fake news channel on TikTok has its own administrator, but they constitute a single fake-spreading network around one control center issuing tasks to individual content makers. This is evidenced by the fact that most fake news TikTok channels share material that is similar in content and form, but not identical. The videos may be edited from different clips, voiced by different voices, have different wordings, contain more or fewer language errors. Still, they promote the same misinformation, stress the same messages, and share the same format.

The fake "news" are sloppy and primitive. They try to present misinformation in the most emotion-triggering ways possible, using vocabulary that is uncharacteristic of the TV channels whose footage they use. The literacy of those who write such voiced texts, which contain many linguistic errors and awkward phrasings, also clashes with the picture. Often, these dishonest content makers show their basic ignorance of the laws and Ukraine's state system. They may say that "the government has passed a law", etc.

The fake news channels capitalize on well-known media brands. The channels under study included four that try to pass themselves off as products of the TV channel "1+1" and use either the digit combination or the acronym TSN in their names and profile pictures. Another channel has the "Channel 24" logo as its profile picture.

Read the full study here.

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