TikTok is demystifying its all-important algorithm. The app is debuting an informative panel that will explain the specific calculations that bring individual videos into your For You Feed.
Some users may already see the new feature, while others will gain access to it in the near future. “Our goal is to serve a range of relevant and entertaining content,” reads a post in the TikTok Newsroom. “To help people understand why a particular video has been recommended to them, we’re rolling out a new tool over the coming weeks.”
Once the tool is available on your For You Feed, you can check it out by going to the sharing panel and tapping the icon labeled “Why this video?” In theory, the explanation for the video’s appearance on your feed will refer to some of the factors the algorithm weighs. TikTok recommends clips based on each user’s location, so you might see a video if it’s popular (or rising fast) in your region. Like, share, follow, and comment activity also influences the algorithm.
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TikTok has taken multiple steps to make its recommendations more transparent. Two years ago, it published a post touching on “the basics about recommendation systems.” Readers learned strategies they could employ if they wanted to alter their recommendations or curate their For You Feeds.
The app’s actions are notable, since recommendation algorithms are infamously opaque and difficult to pin down. YouTube’s engine has been described as a “black box” full of mysteries, though in recent years, the platform has made attempts to demystify the perplexing system that exerts so much influence on the careers of creators.
TikTok has plenty of reasons to launch those sorts of educational initiatives. Though the intelligence of the app’s algorithm is a big advantage over its competitors, TikTok’s recommendations have also been criticized for a number of reasons. They have been accused of perpetuating racial bias, peddling violent videos, and sucking users into an addictive “TikTok spiral.” Most recently, TikTok was called out for pushing harmful content to its teenage users.
Now, TikTok will show its community that there is a rationale behind its recommendations, even if its algorithm sometimes turns up toxic content. The app is explaining its inner workings at the perfect time. It’s currently under fire from lawmakers in D.C. and Republican-controlled statehouses, and a bill banning the app has been proposed. With its new tool, TikTok can show those opponents that it’s not evil — just misunderstood.