"Learn the Facts about COVID-19": Analyzing the Use of Warning Labels on TikTok Videos


  • Chen Ling Boston University
  • Krishna P. Gummadi Max Planck Institute for Software Systems
  • Savvas Zannettou Delft University of Technology Max Planck Institute for Informatics




Credibility of online content, Qualitative and quantitative studies of social media, Trust; reputation; recommendation systems, Web and Social Media


During the COVID-19 pandemic, health-related misinformation and harmful content shared online had a significant adverse effect on society. In an attempt to mitigate this adverse effect, mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok employed soft moderation interventions (i.e., warning labels) on potentially harmful posts. Such interventions aim to inform users about the post's content without removing it, hence easing the public's concerns about censorship and freedom of speech. Despite the recent popularity of these moderation interventions, as a research community, we lack empirical analyses aiming to uncover how these warning labels are used in the wild, particularly during challenging times like the COVID-19 pandemic. In this work, we analyze the use of warning labels on TikTok, focusing on COVID-19 videos. First, we construct a set of 26 COVID-19 related hashtags, and then we collect 41K videos that include those hashtags in their description. Second, we perform a quantitative analysis on the entire dataset to understand the use of warning labels on TikTok. Then, we perform an in-depth qualitative study, using thematic analysis, on 222 COVID-19 related videos to assess the content and the connection between the content and the warning labels. Our analysis shows that TikTok broadly applies warning labels on TikTok videos, likely based on hashtags included in the description (e.g., 99% of the videos that contain #coronavirus have warning labels). More worrying is the addition of COVID-19 warning labels on videos where their actual content is not related to COVID-19 (23% of the cases in a sample of 143 English videos that are not related to COVID-19). Finally, our qualitative analysis on a sample of 222 videos shows that 7.7% of the videos share misinformation/harmful content and do not include warning labels, 37.3% share benign information and include warning labels, and that 35% of the videos that share misinformation/harmful content (and need a warning label) are made for fun. Our study demonstrates the need to develop more accurate and precise soft moderation systems, especially on a platform like TikTok that is extremely popular among people of younger age.




How to Cite

Ling, C., Gummadi, K. P., & Zannettou, S. (2023). "Learn the Facts about COVID-19": Analyzing the Use of Warning Labels on TikTok Videos. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 17(1), 554-565. https://doi.org/10.1609/icwsm.v17i1.22168