New report: Confusing Google search predictions and Google News sources, and unbalanced politics on TikTok and Instagram 

Last March, Faktabaari & CheckFirst showed the significant over-representation of right-wing voices in YouTube’s video recommendations during the Finnish presidential election.

Today, we’re unveiling our latest focus report part of our CrossOver Finland project: Politics Online: Algorithms, Election-Related Content, and Finns. The report focuses on further findings across other big tech platforms observed during the 2024 Finnish presidential campaign.

During the 2024 Finnish presidential elections, our monitoring covered YouTube, Tiktok, Instagram, Google News, Mastodon, as well as Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo search engines’ suggestions. We developed and dispatched a set of 11 data collection devices across Finland. This network enabled us to uncover the following key findings.

Our first key findings relate to Google. We found that Google News blends articles from the news media, political party outlets and opinion sites without explicitly labelling them to allow users to discriminate sources. This lack of a clear labelling can lead to content confusion, making it difficult for readers to distinguish between editorial and non-editorial text, opinion pieces from factual articles.

We also show that Google’s search suggestions were removed on presidential candidates’ names. Advance voting for the presidential election started on the 17th of January, and a few days before that, on the 14th of January, Google seems to have altered their search prediction feature when accessing the service from Finland. We also found that the Google search results page for searches on presidential candidates’ names was very different when browsing from Finland and from outside of Finland (as tested from France) at the time of the election, showing a heavily curated results page to users browsing from Finland.

Moreover, Google’s algorithms led to misleading election fraud claims. When accessed from Finland, Google’s search engine predictions for the Finnish expression meaning “election fraud” suggested finnish for “VKK election fraud”. VKK is a pro-russian and far-right party which has spread false rumors about missing votes during the last Finnish parliamentary elections.

An anonymous account received high visibility on TikTok

Our monitoring of TikTok revealed that an anonymous fan account posting content favourable to the far-right candidate received significant visibility for various searched keywords. Traditional media outlets such as the Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat received high visibility on the platform too. During the presidential election, the anonymous account called Sigma_baller published videos favouring the far-right True Finns party’s candidate Jussi Halla-aho. The official Tiktok accounts of the presidential candidates lagged behind Sigma_baller in terms of visibility, some even by a wide margin.

What about Instagram, which is very popular among women and 18-35 year olds in Finland? News media and the left are strong on the platform. Our observations show that the left and the green parties were particularly active during the presidential race. Accounts tied to the parties were heavily posting using a wide array of politically tinted keywords. 

This new report shows how the monitored platforms are still lacking in transparency and accountability, month after month. Our work continues as we approach the EU elections.

To learn more about our key findings, methodology and Google, Meta & TikTok comments on our study, read our focus report here. Follow our work on CrossOver dashboards and social media.

About us

Check First is a leading Finnish software and methodologies company, spearheading adversarial research techniques. We believe that everyone should be able to understand how and why content is presented to them. We advocate for online clarity and accountability, building solutions to attain this goal. Partnering with leading institutions, regulators, NGOs and educators, we aim at curbing the spread of disinformation and foreign influence manipulations.

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