TikTok is accused of having a kind of secret button to promote a certain type of content in users’ feeds. In practice, this would mean that the platform is able to determine what each person will view, artificially generating trends and favoring content of interest to the service, such as manipulating public opinion or encouraging debates.
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The statement came from sources and documents analyzed by Forbes magazine. According to the publication, ByteDance can modify the algorithm to emphasize controversies, for example, increasing the audience ratings for videos that deal with that and giving greater exposure to the profile.
The analyzed material calls the heating resource (heating, in Portuguese), because it serves precisely to “warm up” things. If a strategic video is not doing well, the button can be triggered to generate a higher number of views.
Of course, this is restricted to the “For You” feed, without impacting the content of friends that the user follows. Even so, most people are in the habit of using the recommendations feed, because it is the platform’s default, so the button ends up bringing positive results.
artificial push button
As reported by the sources, the resource is essential to attract influencers and brands, seeking to establish possible partnerships. In addition, it would have been used at strategic moments to diversify content, as a way to attract less popular niche creators on TikTok.
The company’s own employees admit to having used the button to promote their own accounts and those of acquaintances, which is obviously against the company’s rules. There are no reports of “range selling”, but something like this could even have spurred an internal corruption mechanism.
It’s not clear if this artificial boost would be voluntary, a strategic decision by the service, or if there would be some external payment to benefit creators. In all possible scenarios, this would not be positive at all, because it shows a manipulation of the algorithm outside the “traditional rules of the game”.
Already from a financial point of view, it is impossible to say how much money it may have generated for the platform. The fact is that promotional actions encouraged by the service may have been boosted, although it is not known which ones.
TikTok remains under the watchful eye of regulators
In response to the allegations, a TikTok spokesperson confirmed that they promote videos to help diversify the content experience. This feature would also be used to feature celebrities and encourage emerging creators to grow in the community. There is, however, no mention of the irregular use of the resource, either for personal use or to help the Chinese government.
The news may not come at a good time for the ByteDance platform, accused of spying in the United States and is under scrutiny by the European Union. Although the service is always bringing security features, a “heat button” could put into doubt the investments made in paid media and the very credibility of the service.
The case is very reminiscent of a recent controversy called Twitter Files. The case involved the creation of parallel lists by the board of Passarinho Azul to limit the visibility of accounts that were against their interests. The objective was almost the same here: to favor profiles and reduce the reach of subjects contrary to Twitter’s ideals.