Get your “news” from TikTok

Sam Wineburg is a professor of education at Stanford University and founder of the Stanford History Education Group. With Nadav Ziv, a research associate, Wineburg wrote a revealing essay for the Los Angeles Times where he described what happens when TikTok is your primary source for news and information.

Newsflash: It’s become that for a lot of people.

TikTok, along with Instagram, “is where Gen Z is looking for information and entertainment.” According to internal data recently released by Google, almost 40% of Gen Zers prefer to use TikTok and Instagram as search engines.

In an article for Advertising week, Wanda Pogue wrote that she asked her Gen Z daughter and her friends about their behavior on TikTok, and they agreed with the idea. “It’s the platform they now turn to when looking for anything from top-rated beauty products and clothing trends to the best restaurants in the area or recipes to try.” She adds, “Gen Z prioritizes engagement with authentic content. They want to see a visual representation of something rather than reading about it. »

The problem? Again, from Wineburg: “They often offer a blurry mix between fact and fiction.” Even more problematic? Just because Gen Z grew up with social media doesn’t mean they know how to evaluate the information they find there.

A Stanford investigation found the ability to separate digital fact from fiction to be “bleak”. For example, a 2021 survey of over 3,000 Gen Zers by the Stanford History Education Group asked them

…to assess a grainy video that claimed to provide evidence of voter fraud in the United States. The video was actually shot in Russia. Students could find out by searching online for the words “2016 Democrat Election Fraud Video”, which quickly brings up links to Snopes and the BBC debunking the allegation. Still, the majority of those interviewed were duped, concluding that the video was “strong evidence” of US election tampering.

As Wineburg and Ziv point out, when it comes to TikTok, along with restaurant recommendations and lip-syncing snippets, you’ll also find “false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal tissue and that actors from crisis simulated the shooting at the school of Uvalde. ”

In other words, TikTok news is a hot mess.

So what can be done?

Wineburg offers interesting angles for educators, such as using:

  • Math courses to help students understand how algorithms curate the content they see on social media platforms and how TikTok and Instagram’s algorithms “sacrifice credibility in order to keep users’ eyeballs glued to the screen”.
  • Economy courses to help students analyze platform business models and how “profit motives align with promoting viral information.”
  • English course to demonstrate how even small variations in search terms generate vastly different results. As Wineburg points out: “Search ‘vaccines’ on TikTok and you’ll be taken to information from the World Health Organization. Try ‘heavy metal vaccines’ and you’ll find a slew of videos spouting false claims.”

I have often pointed out that Gen Zers have almost unlimited access to information and almost no access to wisdom. They seem unable – and sometimes even unwilling – to identify misinformation. Yet when young adults spend between seven and eight hours a day online, or 3,000 hours a year,

…the inability to separate fact from fiction becomes acute.

James Emery White


Sam Wineburg and Nadav Ziv, “What happens when TikTok is your primary source for news and information?” Los Angeles TimesAugust 1, 2022, read online.

Samantha Delouya, “Almost half of Gen Zers use TiktTok and Instagram for search instead of Google, according to Google’s own data” InitiatedJuly 13, 2022, read online.

Wanda Pogue, “Move to Google. TikTok is the go-to search engine for Gen Z,” Advertising weekAugust 4, 2022, read online.

“The Census of Common Sense: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2019”, common sense mediaOctober 28, 2019, read online.

“You asked, we answered: do COVID-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal cells?” Nebraska MedicineAugust 18, 2021, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.