One of the things that TikTok users like most about the platform is that the video views were thought to be hard to game, especially by influencers and record labels. Although no one knew much about how the TikTok algorithm worked, it did seem to be somewhat democratized. Unfortunately, a new report from Forbes says that’s not the case at all, as the company can internally pick which videos it wants to go viral via a feature it calls “heating.”
Meet The Playbook
An internal document titled MINT Heating Playbook actually outlines the process. “The heating feature refers to boosting videos into the For You feed through operation intervention to achieve a certain number of video views,” states the Playbook. “The total video views of heated videos accounts for a large portion of the daily total video views, around 1-2%, which can have a significant impact on overall core metrics.”
According to Forbes, “TikTok has often used heating to court influencers and brands, enticing them into partnerships by inflating their videos’ view count. This suggests that heating has potentially benefitted some influencers and brands — those with whom TikTok has sought business relationships — at the expense of others with whom it has not.”
The bottom line is that the videos on your For You page aren’t necessarily there because the algorithm thinks you’ll like them. You’re seeing them because TikTok wants to boost a certain video or creator’s view count. Puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it?
But It’s More Than That
While this is bad enough from a commercial aspect, the report says that TikTok employees also abused the heating feature to boost their own videos or the videos of friends. And it’s not just TikTok employees that have access to the feature. Company contractors can also do their own heating as well.
TikTok has been under fire for being a technology arm of the Chinese government and collecting data from unsuspecting Americans as a result. When pressed by Forbes, TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza wrote: “We promote some videos to help diversify the content experience and introduce celebrities and emerging creators to the TikTok community. Only a few people, based in the U.S., have the ability to approve content for promotion in the U.S., and that content makes up approximately .002% of videos in For You feeds.”
That makes it way worse.
Here we all were thinking that TikTok and parent company Bytedance managed to create a discovery algorithm that was far superior than that of Google, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, etc., only to find out that it’s not that great after all, and that the company is subject to the same faults as everyone else. To make matters worse, their motives might be just as sinister as the conspiracy theorists contend.
Look for this to be a hot topic when U.S. lawmakers study the information.