TikTok has manipulated its algorithm to promote certain important moments, such as the Soccer World Cup or when Taylor Swift joined the platform for the first time, the company’s cybersecurity executive at the South conference in Austin, Texas.
“We promote content like the World Cup or when Taylor Swift joined the platform, and sometimes we push outside the rating that we normally get from the recommendation system, like Netflix promotes a movie on the website. startup,” said Jeff Louisma, head of cyber and information defense in the US Data Security division TikTok.
This boosting (artificial boost to some content outside the algorithm) is applied to “a small percentage of videos and is subject to our business rules, which are transparent in the company”, he explained.
Lousima noted that the boosting of the Los Angeles-based company’s editorial team can be controlled and reviewed by its management partner Oracle to “ensure that no one introduces unexpected rules or behavior into the system.”
In January, Forbes reported that TikTok and ByteDance could select specific staff to distribute more on the app, a practice they internally referred to as “blow ups.” Sources told Forbes that there have been cases where employees have abused the feature to promote their accounts or their spouses’ accounts, against company policy.
“A few people, based in the US, have the ability to approve content for promotion in the US, and that content makes up about 0.002% of the development in the For You feed,” a TikTok spokesperson told the outlet.
TikTok staff may also have other devices that can influence the type of content that users see on their app.
In August 2020, the head of the company’s US music operations told Business Insider that the music team uses “promotional bars” such as stories, recommendations on the “Sounds” page, and keywords to optimize the discovery of songs in the application’s search interface.
In recent months, TikTok’s algorithm has come under scrutiny from security experts and politicians who question whether the app could be used to broadcast content in favor of China, where ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is based.
Propaganda campaigns on social media are often more subtle than disseminating pro-Chinese military videos, Milton Mueller, director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s master’s degree in cybersecurity policy and co-author of a report from the University of Technology, told Business Insider in January. The Internet Government Project on TikTok and national security.
“It could be as simple as blocking a certain user, or amplifying the influence that is very favorable to a certain politician to see the Chinese government favoring their interests,” the expert said at the time.