Friday, September 29, 2023

TikTok confirms that its own employees can determine what goes viral

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Shreya Christina
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TikTok confirmed this Forbes that some of its US employees have the ability to incentivize videos to “introduce celebrities and emerging creators to the TikTok community.” The statement comes as part of a report about TikTok’s “Heating” button, that one Forbes says can be used to post selected videos to users’ “For You” pages, boosting views by bypassing the algorithm that supposedly powers the TikTok experience.

Jamie Favazza, a TikTok spokesperson, shared Forbes that increasing the number of views of certain videos is not the only reason for heating. TikTok will also “promote some videos to diversify the content experience” (read: make sure your feed doesn’t consist entirely of one or two trends), he said. Favazza also suggests that TikTok doesn’t do it that often, claiming that only “.002% of videos in For You feeds” are heated. According to an internal document obtained by Forbeshowever, heated videos reportedly make up “about 1-2 percent” of “total daily video views”.

TikTok’s heating can make creators and brands feel like they’re winning on the platform

Heated videos do not come with a label to show that they have been promoted by TikTok, such as ads or sponsored posts, according to the report. Instead, they look like all the other videos the algorithm would have selected for you.

The news is not necessarily a surprise. There have been has been reporting for years that TikTok used promises of promoted content to convince politicians and businesses to use its platform, and companies, especially in the music industry, have made no secret of it use the platform to promote their brands.

TikTok would also be far from the only social media company promoting videos in an unnatural way. Facebook reportedly knew it was showing too high a view count and didn’t immediately fix it to lure advertisers and media companies to its platform. (It ended up paying $40 million settle a lawsuit on the matter.) While that’s not exactly the same scenario – TikTok videos really do seem to get real views, even if they don’t organically go viral – the effect could be similar; people end up thinking they will do better on TikTok than they actually will.

It also means that TikTok picks winners and losers: creators and brands can lose a spot on someone’s For You page to someone who has a closer relationship with the company. According to Forbesthere have been incidents of employees heating up content they shouldn’t have, promoting videos from friends, partners, and even their own accounts.

Creators may also lose interest in the platform if their videos underperform compared to videos being promoted, as TikTok’s lack of transparency around heat makes it difficult to determine which videos topped organically.

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