TikTok 'Hatescape' Hype Ignores Important Details

A new analysis reportedly showing a huge proportion of TikTok content is racist tells us nothing about the overall prevalence of extremist and bigoted content on the app.


"Extremist content is flourishing on TikTok," read a Politico headline today. The USA Today headline was even more breathless, calling the popular video app a "'hatescape' for racism and white supremacy." Both articles concerned a new report from researchers at the U.K.'s Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) think tank.

A bulleted list atop the USA Today piece trumpets a dramatic finding: "Of the 1,030 TikTok videos researchers analyzed, nearly a third amplified white supremacy." These videos "included support for genocide conspiracy theories that claim white people's existence is under threat and music from white power bands," the article goes on to state. "Three of the 10 most popular videos, viewed a combined 3.5 million times, were clips originally produced by Paul Miller, an extremist known as 'Gypsy Crusader' who spreads racist and antisemitic rhetoric on social media."

"White supremacist videos were by far the largest category of content the study uncovered," USA Today adds.

All of this gives the impression that researchers simply opened TikTok and were bombarded with an overwhelming amount of white supremacist content. But click through to the ISD report and you'll notice an important and overlooked fact: The researchers were only analyzing videos deemed to contain extremist content.

That is: the 1,030 TikTok videos studied were not some random sample. They were videos purposefully chosen because they were associated with at least one of "157 keywords associated with extremist individuals, groups, ideologies and related incidents or events."

"ISD examined TikTok accounts identified by these keyword searches to assess the presence of videos, comments or profiles that featured support for extremist individuals, groups or ideologies. Through this method we identified 177 TikTok accounts," the report states. "ISD found that such accounts typically follow or are followed by other accounts that share their ideological interests. ISD therefore used a snowball methodology to expand the sample of accounts featuring relevant hateful and extremist content, yielding 1,030 videos from 491 TikTok accounts during our data collection period (4-30 June 2021)."

When USA Today refers to "nearly a third" of TikTok videos that "amplified white supremacy," it's not one-third of a representative selection of 1,000-plus TikTok videos but one-third of a cache of videos specifically chosen because they contained hateful content.

"This was no random sample at all.  Rather, the supposed sample was *designed* to find extremist stuff," pointed out Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, on Twitter. "So, in other words, the authors of this report created a methodology designed to find extremist content and then revealed that the results of doing so produced–you guessed it–extremist content."

The report tells us nothing about the prevalence of extremist and/or white supremacist content in the overall TikTok landscape, nor how frequently the average person using the app might see such content. This is important context both the USA Today and Politico pieces overlook in their rush to paint TikTok as a "'hatescape."

NEXT: Since Platform-by-Platform Censorship Doesn't Work, These Researchers Think, the Government Should Help 'Halt the Spread of Misinformation'

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  1. Imagine a specialized breeding ground for memes- where millions of 15 second video spots are acid washed by the most fickle people of all, teenagers, hour after hour. Only the most devious of those 15 second videos survive. Those that reach past teenage angst and lobotomized attention spans to grab at the lizard brain of emotion- these are the videos on TikTok. By and large they are kids kicking each other in the nuts.

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  2. Someday we reach that lofty pinnacle where there are no offensive words to trouble anyone. Everyone will be mute.

    1. “‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.’”

      Orwell, 1984

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  3. GIven what gets labeled as “racist” and “white supremacy” these days, I’d be pretty skeptical even if the methods weren’t garbage.

    1. When everything is “racist” nothing is, I guess.

      The real killer was when they moved “White Supremecy” to be a really generic moniker attached to all of us. That used to be like the KKK, and there are maybe 7500 KKK members in the whole United States. Now it’s 200 million people. Because… reasons.

      1. The shift in meaning of “white supremacy” is particularly nuts. When things that are pretty obvious goods like work ethic and meritocracy are derided as “white supremacy” then I guess I’m a white supremacist (though nothing in the ordinary meaning of the words would apply to me).

        1. Racist stopped working and Nazi was too obvious.

        2. Let’s not forget that the LA Slimes just labeled Larry Elder as the “Black Face of White Supremacy”.

  4. The Anti-Defamation League is a hate group founded in an attempt to defend the reputation of a pedophile convicted of capital murder.

    1. Correct. Anybody they disagree with becomes a hate group. The SPLC is no different.

    2. Think what you will of the ADL today, but Leo Frank was posthumously pardoned of the crime by the Georgia State Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and most researchers say he was falsely accused and that a plant janitor Jim Conley committed the murder of Mary Phagan.

      You may want to actually research that of which you speak.

  5. Gosh if politico or usa today reported on it, it must be true!


  6. What I find fascinating that that apparently only 1/3 of content labeled as “extremist” actually was.

    So if anything, this study shows that the problem doesn’t really exist

    1. I’m guessing the other 2/3rds was primarily extremist in different ways. (I mean, I suppose it’s possible their methodology failed that hard, but white supremacy isn’t the only form of extremism).

  7. A bulleted list atop the USA Today piece trumpets a dramatic finding: “Of the 1,030 TikTok videos researchers analyzed, nearly a third amplified white supremacy.”

    First of all, that’s likely to be 900% bullshit. The people who are in the business of looking for this stuff are 100% (it’s all percentages, baby) steeped in critical race theory. Meaning they’re highly attuned to perceived trigger warnings, dog whistles, ‘systemic racism’ (the belief that starts from the conclusion that all white people are racist and all the institutions support it, wittingly or unwittingly as evidenced by disparate impact) etc.

    Then the media blindly repeats this shit because nearly 100% of journalists are themselves steeped in this shit, so it’s a circular circle jerk of circular shit.

  8. In this day and age of trigger words, mean tweets and virtually anything someone finds remotely offensive, no matter what the context, it’s enough to lose your job over, or removed from university or shadow banned or removed from……fill in the blank.
    So naturally anyone can, if they press hard enough, probably find some inkling of or misinterpreted as hate speech.
    This falls into the realm of the busybody, the snitch, the nose picking little teacher’s pet, the back stabbing little office employee, and the terminally grievously offended so often found in university.
    Those so easily offended have decided to ramp up the game and label anything they find offensive as extremist or RAYCISSSSS!
    Of course this goes along with those inside D.C. who find anything that is counter to their propaganda as extremist.
    So why would it nor filter on down to the rest of us.
    But then what I just wrote can be considered as extremist and therefore a dangerous terrorist threat.

  9. ENB, cascading outrage porn headlines and weak-ass stories drawn from a study based in selection and confirmation biases? Nah, dude, those are respectable outlets you are talking about, not intellectually and ethically challenged propaganda mills with a history of this sort of thing. /sarc

  10. Who cares if another person is racist as long as they aren’t violating your liberty by initiating force? Racism is a thought crime. It has no effect absent affirmative action.

  11. You know you’re living in interesting times when the fascists are defending free speech, and the liberals are trying to shut it down.

  12. ENB is the one from staff that has all the behaviors of a Tik Tok.

    1. Seems to me a few more need their thinking wound up on occasion. (L. Frank Baum reference for those poor souls that have not had the Oz books read to them as children.)

  13. Whiny, mollycoddled, defeated snowflakes and woke dead ends of evolution will see racism everywhere they go. Guess why that is?

  14. I think Tik Tok should be shut down by their service provider, their certificates revoked and demonetized by payment processors.

    But they shouldn’t be touched by the government.


  15. Isn’t TikTok owned by the government of China? I doubt they buy into white supremacy very much. And they’re also famous for censoring any content they don’t agree with, from Tianamen Square all the way to Winnie the Pooh.

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