TikTok Wants to Be More Transparent With Its Algorithm

A new content feature will take some of the mystery out of why a video is recommended on a user's feed.

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TikTok introduces transparency in content algorithm
Image: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

TikTok announced on Tuesday it is becoming more transparent by introducing a new feature that will tell users why its algorithm recommends certain videos in their feeds. The change is being rolled out in users’ For You feed and will include a question mark icon titled “Why this video” for users to review.

A TikTok spokesperson confirmed the feature can be accessed starting today and the icon will list why the video was selected, including examples of previous interactions, accounts the user follows, content the user has posted recently, or content that has become popular in the user’s region.

TikTok created a new algorithm transparency tool
Image: TikTok
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“Looking ahead, we’ll continue to expand this feature to bring more granularity and transparency to content recommendations,” TikTok said in a news release.

However, despite TikTok’s assurances it values transparency, the app has been banned from government devices in some states and it is going through a national security review with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

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The renewed transparency comes as social media platforms have faced considerable scrutiny in recent weeks over the type of content young users are being directed to that can lead them toward harmful content surrounding suicide and eating disorders.

An investigation by the Wall Street Journal last year found that one of the ways TikTok’s algorithms suggested content to users was how long the person lingered over the video, even if they didn’t interact with it.

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Lawmakers have gone so far as to introduce a bill led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) that would ban TikTok from operating in the U.S.

In a press release last week, Rubio accused TikTok of collecting user’s data to “manipulate feeds” and accused the app of being a “CCP [Chinese Communist Party]-puppet company,” and Gallagher went so far as to call TikTok “digital fentanyl that’s addicting Americans, collecting troves of their data, and censoring their news.”

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“This feature is one of many ways we’re working to bring meaningful transparency to the people who use our platform and builds on a number of steps we’ve taken towards that goal.”

The new algorithm feature is one of several announcements the tech company has made to seemingly ease growing concerns about the app and the company behind it. The company has added tools for users to customize the content recommendations, parental controls to restrict the content children see on the app, and it has pledged to be more transparent with its content moderation systems.

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“At TikTok, we want people to feel empowered creating, connecting, and engaging on our platform,” the company wrote in the news release. “ That’s why we equip creators and viewers with a range of features, tools, and resources so they can stay in control of their experience. Today we’re adding to that toolbox with a feature that helps bring more context to content recommended in For You feeds.”