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TikTok has confirmed employees can manually promote certain videos across the platform to ensure a specific number of video views.
First reported by Forbes, TikTok has since confirmed some of its employees can boost videos to “introduce celebrities and emerging creators of the TikTok community.”
This is achieved via a so-called “heating” button, which bypasses the algorithm intended to drive the TikTok experience.
Back-end Manipulation Can Encourage Virality
According to the Forbes investigation, six current and former employees of TikTok and its Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance, employees within the United States, can artificially expand the reach of specific videos.
In a “MINT Heating Playbook, “ an internal document acquired by Forbes, ByteDance stated, “The heating feature refers to boosting videos into the For You feed through operation intervention to achieve a certain number of video views.”
This contradicts how TikTok has previously claimed its recommendation feed works by using an algorithm to curate a personalized feed for each user’s interests.
Heating Allegedly Used To Encourage Partnerships
According to Forbes’ sources, this process builds business relationships and attracts influencers and brands.
“We promote some videos to help diversify the content experience and introduce celebrities and emerging creators to the TikTok community,” TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza told Forbes. “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.”
However, according to the MINT document, heated videos make up around 1-2% of daily video views.
View Manipulation Is A Fairly Common Practice
According to Brent Csutoras, digital marketing expert and co-founder and managing partner at Alpha Brand Media, Search Engine Journal’s parent corporation, this type of behind-the-scenes manipulation is more common than platforms let on – and it has often resulted in misuse.
“Although it is not uncommon for social media platforms to utilize staff actions, give certain ‘power users’ the ability to have more influence, or even force content integration into your feeds (whether by ads, forced follows, or algorithmic factors), TikTok has long been a company who seems to ignore the impact these decisions have on their users trust, especially when conducted behind closed doors and without explanation,” Csutoras said.
“In each scenario where an individual or group of individuals can take action that impacts the visibility of content on a platform, whether it be social media or search engines, we have seen strong user pushback and abuse.”
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