Behind the scenes, TikTok employees pull the strings

Hitting the viral internet jackpot can seem like a combination of algorithm and luck (with a dose of talent or skill, of course). But this is not the result of a pre-programmed black box of computer-coded decision-making. Employees at TikTok and ByteDance have been reported has a hidden tool up its sleeves: a feature internally referred to as “heating”. The manual push option forces certain videos into users’ For You Pages in the app – all while guaranteeing that selected content will “achieve a certain number of video views.” report From Forbes.

Six former and current employees of TikTok or its parent company, Byte Dance, said employees often select videos for a secret super boost. Overall, hot video content “makes up a large portion of total daily video views, around 1-2%,” said an internal document seen by Forbes. And that “could have a significant impact on the overall bottom line.”

Sometimes companies will take advantage of the vagaries of the algorithm to reduce the popularity of objectionable content on their sites. health misinformation. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok all have a history of embedding promotional content. For example, information at different relevant times about elections or covid-19 hAs feeds have been pushed to the top. Then, of course, all of the above social sites have prominent ads.

But the difference here is that “hot” TikTok videos are not tagged. Different explanation Whether it’s an Instagram poll post or a “promoted” tweet, TikTok’s heated content has nothing to separate it from the rest of the “For You” crowd. The idea is how Meta once was used human curators Selecting articles to display in the news section, except that TikTok content appears in the app’s continuous, main feed.

The biggest application for the “Warm Up” tool: Reaching out to brands and influencers that TikTok wants to partner with, according to Forbes. TikTok artificially boosts views through heat and hopes to attract companies and creators to new deals. “This suggests that warming has a potential benefit to some effectorsetc. and brands – people with whom TikTok is looking for business relationships – at the expense of others who are not,” Forbes wrote.

But ByteDance and TikTok employees have plenty of latitude to pick and choose what’s hot. According to Forbes, a document titled “TikTok Heat Policy” lists various approved reasons for employees to apply heat. These justifications include “attracting influencers”, “promoting diverse content”, “pushing important information” and “promoting relevant videos missed by recommendation algorithms”.

Then, there are employees who try to use the feature for their own benefit. According to Forbes, there have been numerous cases of employees abusing their “warming privileges” to promote their accounts or their spouses’ accounts and personal connections, citing both internal documents and three unnamed sources. This kind of self-promotion is against company policy, but that hasn’t stopped it from happening. In one case, such heating reportedly led to an account garnering more than 3 million views.

But regardless of whether the rationale is endorsed by ByteDance, evidence that the Chinese tech company deliberately manipulated online content is unlikely to go down well with US policymakers. There are fears that China is using TikTok to promote Communist Party propaganda there are many among legislators. That’s what TikTok is negotiations on the contract are currently underway with the Biden Administration and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CIFUS) – to try to address the concern. But it may be too late.

At least 28 anyway states and numerous universities has banned TikTok from devices and networks due to data privacy concerns and potential trouble with the Chinese government. Access information about US users. In October 2022, an earlier Forbes report revealed ByteDance monitoring is planned the locations of a select group of American citizens. Shortly after this announcement, a group of senators introduced a bill Banning TikTok domestically.

However, it is important to note: there is very limited information It suggests that TikTok poses any unique national security threat or that ByteDance engages in practices that other social media platforms and data brokers do not. US data collected by US-owned companies is now often stored on Chinese servers 2020 Gizmodo study.

To increase transparency, TikTok announced in December 2022 start explaining soon each of his video recommendations in an associated pop-up panel. But the concept of “warming up” or internally promoted content is notably absent from the company’s news release. It’s unclear if the heated videos come with their own explanations.

Gizmodo reached out to ByteDance and TikTok with questions via email. In response, a company spokesperson wrote: “We are promoting some videos to diversify the content experience and introduce celebrities and emerging creators to the TikTok community. Only a handful of people based in the US have the ability to approve content for promotion in the US, and that content makes up about .002% of the videos in your For You feeds.”

The statement further noted that under the ongoing CIFUS agreement, “only vetted TikTok US Data Security personnel will have the ability to ‘hot’ videos in the US.”

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