Since TikTok’s arrival into the social media sphere almost ten years ago, its users have started using it as a platform to get news updates, find community, and learn new things. With over one billion monthly users and more users downloading the app daily, there are new questions regarding its integration into everyday life. The newest question: is TikTok turning into the newest unofficial search engine?

Why TikTok Should Not Be Considered a Search Engine

While TikTok has search functionality within its app to find videos and creators, it lacks some key features of a true search engine. TikTok only shows results from its own database of short video clips created by users. It does not search the entire internet or display websites. Additionally, TikTok does not crawl, index, or cache web pages like Google and other search engines. 

The main purpose of TikTok is for creating and sharing viral short videos – not searching for general information across the web. While you can look up videos by hashtag or sounds, TikTok operates very differently than searching on Google or Bing where you can find relevant websites, images, news, and more. Think of TikTok’s search as similar to searching within other social apps like Instagram or Facebook which were designed for the discoverability of user-generated content rather than searching the World Wide Web.

What Does This Mean For Students?

For students, it is important to understand that while TikTok can be useful and entertaining, it should not replace actual research using credible websites and search engines. TikTok videos can give you guidance on new gym routines or new recipes, but students should not use TikTok as a resource for research papers and school assignments. 

The videos are user-generated, often opinion-based, and lack oversight or fact-checking. Instead, students should turn to library databases, online encyclopedias, .edu and .gov websites, and other credible resources vetted by editors and professionals. While watching TikTok videos can spark creativity, critical thinking is still required to determine valid sources of information.

Will TikTok Ever Be Considered a “Reliable Source”?

As TikTok evolves, there is a chance it may implement more oversight around accuracy and credibility. However, the free-flowing, viral nature of its video content presents challenges for making this determination. Even news organizations posting short news clips on TikTok would require external fact-checking against their main articles. 

So while TikTokers can create entertaining and helpful how-to’s or thoughtful opinion pieces, students and researchers should follow up on information by comparing multiple authoritative sources. As with all social media, users must consider the qualifications and expertise behind each piece of content shared. Given these limitations, it’s unlikely academic institutions will consider the platform a “reliable source” on its own in the near future.

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With the ever changing digital landscape having TI:GER on your side can make a significant difference in how you learn and adapt to new social platforms and search engines. To learn more about how TI:GER can make a difference in your academic career, visit our website.