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April 26, 2024

Is lifting of viral news from social media fuelling loss of trust in journalism?

Trust in journalism down, content lifted from Tiktok up. Could the two be linked?

By Katherine Denkinson

Every year new polls reveal plunging trust in journalism, like the recent Edelman survey which revealed just 31% of people in the UK trust the media. And is it any wonder given how much online news nowadays is based on thinly-sourced social media testimony?

A glance at Mail Online’s Tiktok section or the Daily Mirror’s Reddit page will reveal hundreds of stories based purely on content which has been shared on the platforms.

A prime example of this appeared on Mail Online last year when it published a story about a gym-going mum who had allegedly been told to give up her weights machine by another “entitled” gym user. The entire article consisted of writing up the contents and dialogue of a viral Tiktok video. Two weeks later Mail Online published another article after the Tiktoker revealed the whole scenario to have been staged. 

The Tiktoker told Mail Online she made the video as a statement on the spread of online negativity. The original, fictional, news story remains online and has not been updated. 

The regurgitation of Tiktok drama as news has become a staple of The Independent’s youth-focused outlet Indy100. A search on Indy100 for TikTok reveals thousands of articles mostly written verbatim from the app’s comment threads. A search for ‘News’ brings up 62653 articles whilst 7455 appear in a search for Tiktok.

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Indy100’s 2022 story of a TikToker who was being sued by guests at her AirBnB for having a disability was later removed after it was revealed to have been one of many scams perpetuated by a serial fraudster. 

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Last week, Indy100 published a piece entitled “Bride disgusted after finding groom’s mum breastfeeding him before wedding”.  Discussing a podcast episode which actually aired last year (and which Indy100 had already written about in February of last year), the piece repeats a story told to the podcast hosts by a guest, about an incident which came from a ‘friend of a friend’. 

A few minutes on Google quickly revealed the story to have been the subject of an Australian podcast from 2021, who claimed they saw it on an Instagram post. It also appeared in a Tweet made by journalist Flora Gill in 2020 and in a 2019 episode of the UK podcast “Shagged Married Annoyed”, who claimed they were told the story by some girls they met in a public toilet. Whilst such content is ideal for podcasts and other conversational outlets, it is somewhat stretching the definition of ‘news’.

This temptation to jump on the viral bandwagon has caught out numerous news outlets in the last few years.

There have also been national stories of Dolphins swimming in the Venetian canals, (actually a misattributed video shared on Twitter), a Scottish man being stood up for his first date (which he recently revealed to have been faked for Tiktok) and Australian outlet PerthNow has published several stories based on Reddit posts, many of which were later revealed to be fake.

The regurgitation of Reddit posts as news creates a number of problems. Many stories posted this week on the Mirror’s website often come from Reddit posts made years ago and are of limited relevance to current events.

On social media itself accusations of “lazy journalism” and “churnalism” often crop up and responses show that those who lose faith in the writers of these articles, also lose faith in the titles as a whole.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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