How TikTok Reads Your Mind

from NYTs

There are four main goals for TikTok’s algorithm: ????, ???? (??), ????, and ????, which the company translates as “user value,” “long-term user value,” “creator value,” and “platform value.”

That set of goals is drawn from a frank and revealing document for company employees that offers new details of how the most successful video app in the world has built such an entertaining — some would say addictive — product.

The document, headed “TikTok Algo 101,” was produced by TikTok’s engineering team in Beijing. A company spokeswoman, Hilary McQuaide, confirmed its authenticity, and said it was written to explain to nontechnical employees how the algorithm works. The document offers a new level of detail about the dominant video app, providing a revealing glimpse both of the app’s mathematical core and insight into the company’s understanding of human nature — our tendencies toward boredom, our sensitivity to cultural cues — that help explain why it’s so hard to put down. The document also lifts the curtain on the company’s seamless connection to its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, at a time when the U.S. Department of Commerce is preparing a report on whether TikTok poses a security risk to the United States.

More here.

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12 Comments

  1. “Tik Tok” has occupied the dominant position on the Apple App Store free rankings for many days. With its diverse music styles, cool visual editing functions, personalized distribution mechanism, and a good community atmosphere, Douyin has been widely sought after by young user groups shortly after its launch. It can be said that today, a 15-second exposure can make you famous overnight, and a 15-second video can record the moving or exciting moments of life.

    The success of Douyin stems from the solution to the problem of “no content to watch”. These are all due to the algorithm recommendation + manual selection recommendation mechanism adopted by Douyin. According to a professional who knows about Douyin: After the machine learns the interests of users, it will push similar videos at a certain frequency, but it will not push too much of a certain type of video to cause user aesthetic fatigue. Douyin will also manually select some high-quality content, push it to fans, and comment on related tags. Interested users. The more important thing is operation. After Douyin masters release creative videos, Douyin will also guide ordinary users to imitate them through operations. When a certain type of creative video is popular, the machine will also make changes to this type of video. Multiple recommendations to attract ordinary users to participate. At the same time, both the official Douyin and users can post topic challenges to guide users to create on the same topic. The machine will recommend topics of interest to users.

  2. Tik tok’s algorithm makes the app constantly show you the videos you like based on how you respond to the videos they show you. The article goes over how the app grabs your attention and does their best to keep it. Personally, I love tik tok. When using the app, it consistently shows me videos I like, and shows me videos on Hobbies I enjoy. For example, I remember when I first got the app, it showed me a video of some NBA players in a game. Once I liked that video, it started showing me more just like it. After some time, the app figured out I liked basketball, video games, and puppy videos. I found myself constantly wanting to scroll through the app, and unknowingly became addicted to it. I was using the app every chance I got and even tried deleting a couple of times to test if I really was addicted. What I noticed about apps like this is that they can make teens and kids addicted to social media and their smartphones. This website https://www.mentalup.co/blog/social-media-addiction talks about how teens addicted to their phones use it about 9 hrs a day. I looked at my screen time and noticed that I use my phone for the same amount of time. The reasons TikTok wants to keep you hooked and grab your attention is so that you watch ads. When you watch ads, tik tok gets paid.

    • Michael,

      If you realize yourself that you are addicted to TikTok, why do you still use it? Our time and attention is being marketed to advertisers; it’s chilling to think about the fact that soulless capitalism has progressed to the point of entrapping youth to satisfy greedy billionaires.

      You may argue that you have a two-way relationship with TikTok; you give them your time and attention and they provide you with entertainment and empty time. To each their own, but I want to try and persuade you that there are more productive things you could be doing with your time. Work out, study, read a book, strengthen relationships with friends. If that doesn’t persuade you to try and quit TikTok one more time, what convinced me was the disgust for Big Tech’s greediness. I think it’s unethical to be targeting impressionable teens and feeding into their addiction to quick entertainment. Don’t feed into them and give them any more power over you. Doesn’t it frustrate you to be manipulated like this? That’s what drove me to quit social media.

      But in the end it’s completely up to you what you choose to do. I don’t mean to reprimand your way of life if you choose to use TikTok, I would just like to make my point.

  3. TikTok’s algorithm is one that I believe gives us a glimpse into how the future of all websites will work. The main idea of the algorithm is to keep people on the app for as long as possible so that they can make as much money as possible off of each individual user. The idea of focusing on making as much money as possible is one that is shared by all major online platforms. While some might be against the idea of websites logging users’ data, even if it is just to personalize the experience, the hard truth here is that this type of data harvesting is here to stay. Every major website today uses its users’ data to some extent, whether it be Amazon using it to show you items you might like based on past purchases or it is Instagram using data from posts you interact with to show you similar posts, this is not going away. On its surface, these ideas are not that problematic. We are shown products we might want and content that we might want to see, it gives a personal experience to each user on the platform. The problem with all of this falls when the algorithm goes a little too far with what it shows people. As discussed in the article, TikTok’s problem is that the algorithm works in a way that it logs how long you interact with a post as a metric for gauging what posts you want to see and what posts you do not. This can lead to addictive behavior and if similarly implemented across all major social media platforms, can lead to a greater dependence on devices than we already have today. My concern with this is not so much TikTok harvesting data to show its users more personal content, as I have come to accept that this is here to stay, it more so falls on TikTok’s inability to limit such addictive content from being put into a users personal database. According to the article, the only direct way TikTok is attempting to combat this is by “aggressively deleting content that violates its terms of service.” This solution only works for posts that directly promote violence, self-harm, or other violations of the terms of service, this does not solve the overarching problem of making its users addicted by constantly showing them stimulating content. With most of TikTok’s user base being young people, this is very hard to combat and gives a bleak look into the future of social media’s effect on the minds of children.

  4. Tiktok has taken the world by storm and changed the social media game. Tiktok is one of the most downloaded apps around the world. The article from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/05/business/media/tiktok-algorithm.html?searchResultPosition=1 went over how Tiktok tries to grab your attention and maintain your attention to the app. Tiktok pays attention to what categories I like and pay attention too. For example, when I first downloaded tiktok a bunch of videos on my “for you page” came up. When I would see a video revolving sports or working out I would like that video or save it to my favorites. Tiktok paid close attention to that. So now when I would go on the app I would mainly see videos of sports and working out. It is actually a very smart tactic used by Tiktok. It keeps you on the app when you see videos you find entertaining. The one problem that I have had with Tiktok though, is that I found it very easy to become addicted to it. I would catch myself on it for as long as an hour and a half before I went to sleep. After a while I knew I had to discipline myself. I would set an alarm when I went on the app so that I would not lose track of time. The way that TikTok gets paid is through their advertisements. So the more that they can keep someone on the app and watching ad’s when they come up, the more they will get paid. One piece of advice I would have for a new user is to keep yourself from being on it for to long and not believing what you always see on it. People can be very manipulative on the app. They try to make others believe about themselves what is not true. If you decide to make content, just be yourself. People like to see what is different. Tiktok is mainly a safer platform. They band and delete any content containing violence, self harm or anything that violates their terms of service. So when you are signing up know that there are many great things about the app but also just make sure you are not becoming to addicted to it. Manage your time using it and have fun.

  5. Social media algorithms have revolutionized profit-making for these companies. With algorithms, social media apps such as TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc, can now directly target advertisements to consumers most likely to purchase the product or service. The algorithms use the user’s phone data and correlate them with an advertisement. Algorithms have become so advanced that social media apps can pick up the slightest detail and use it to market advertisements to a specific consumer group. Algorithms have become so good at picking up details that it has become frightening. There have been times when I would be having conversations with somebody about a product, and when I log into Instagram or TikTok, the first thing I see is an advertisement for the product. Makes you think about what else your phone can pick up even if you are not actively using the phone. The TikTok application is especially efficient with its algorithms.
    TikTok has become the most used social media application in the past couple of years. They have gotten their popularity due to the app’s addictive nature. TikTok has figured out a way to retain its users effectively. They can connect the user to videos by simply liking a related topic or longer watch time on a video. TikTok’s algorithm has gotten to the point where it knows the user better than the user knows themself. The article,” The TikTok Algorithm Knew My Sexuality Better Than I Did” is a narrative article, in which a 26-year-old social media manager goes into detail on how TikTok made her come out as bisexual. She denied the inclination her whole life until she started using TikTok, where she was recommended queer-related videos. The videos made her feel more comfortable with her sexuality. Algorithms can be positive when they help the user get connected to videos that will better their lives, but I believe the algorithm is an invasion of privacy. It is a scary thought to have that social media apps are constantly monitoring user activities on the phone and in person. Nobody knows who is exactly receiving the information. The algorithm could just be a façade and social media companies are soliciting user information to undesired people or organizations.

  6. TikTok is a well known app that is used as a source of entertainment for children and adults. The app allows one to create videos and post them so that others from any place in the world are allowed to see them. However, as someone who has the app I can say it is extremely addictive and follows an algorithm which allows any user to grow a liking to the app. TikTok keeps track of the users liked videos so that similar videos will be shown. Each users for you page is customized differently which is another reason why the app is addictive because it is made specifically for you. The reason why TikTok as well as every other social app does this is obviously because of money. The more people that download the app, watch the adds and create content the more they will get paid. As selfish as this sounds, wouldn’t anyone do this for money ?

  7. Throughout the article titled, “How TikTok Reads Your Mind,” a very important topic of discussion is presented that is easily relevant to the daily consumer’s lifestyle. In general, most Americans have heard of the new social media app, Tik Tok. However, what they may not understand is the apps algorithm and how it perceives its users. Tik Tok reactively tends to its users and their preferences. For example, if a user opens the app and digitally reacts to a post that is seen on their “for you page”, the algorithm will simply find videos that relate to the one of which the user reacted to and repeatedly show the user more videos just like it. By doing this, the app constantly customizes itself to the users likings. That is why someone can learn so much about someone else and their hobbies just by scrolling through their Tik Tok app.
    Personally, I believe the Tik Tok algorithm to be the most attractive part of the app itself. The way it is designed is simply ingenious. However, this isn’t the first or last time this self-learning algorithm will be used within an application such as Tik Tok. For example, the relative application, Instagram, uses an algorithm that is very similar to Tik Tok. While a user on both of the applications can simply follow content that they like, Instagram also presents its users with related accounts or posts that may instantly catch the users attention. This shows that the algorithm that Tik Tok uses, has evidently already been adapted by other companies for its exact same purpose, to hold the user’s attention, keeping them said application for as long as possible. This is the company’s goal, for most of their revenue is made by showing paid advertisements to its users, as well as selling this information collected by the algorithm to other companies. Yes, that is right, your preferences and other interests are literally being sold to other companies to ultimately grab your attention.
    Personally, I feel as if this act of marketing one’s information that is collected on an algorithm similar to Tik Tok’s is unjust and invasive. This is because I feel as if someone’s use of social media and what they choose to do should be private and personal. Even though there are specific ways that a user can privatize their account as well as its contents to other users, this simply does not stop the company from collecting and selling information gained by the users preferences. However, little to no concern has aroused because of this, as people all across the world will continue to use the application all throughout their day.

  8. TikTok is a drug which makes society toxic. Being a young adult that is part of the generation of “TikTokers”, I see friends and family using the app and most of the time is separating them from anything around such as an opportunity for conversation, learning or enjoying a nice view. The algorithm is the reason why everyone is so addicted to the drug. Humans have this tendency to like and get closer to what is related to them, meaning any familiarity in an unknown environment will cause comfort. Social media is a world where people can find literally everything they want, which can be positive for the ones who struggle to find themselves in the real world, as they find connections and friendships by knowing there is someone out there that relates to them. But at the same time, it creates dependency. TikTok is aware of that, so the algorithm is used to addict. By taking information of what a person sees, the app will only show what it is of like therefore the person will always be watching and listening to what they already like, already know and already agree with. This causes a huge impact negatively as the idea of seeing counterpoints and using critical thinking to relate and see what side of a story is better never happens. For example, a person who has a clear and decided choice in politics will go to the app and only see what they already agree, making them more and more alienated to the opposite opinion, causing people to be unable to have a healthy discussion. When I mention that society is toxic, I mean that I have seen so much hate between people who disagree with others to the point they distance themselves from friends and family because of a vote, a choice, or a post. Where is that human side of people in which they agree to disagree and try to understand the other side? There is no more empathy. If someone disagrees with something its siblings believe, it is fine to discuss, mention each other points of views and still disagree. But with this alienation caused by social media, we now see people hating each other for not having the same opinion.
    If people stop to analyze the names of each four categories in the algorithms, something is peculiar. For example, “user-value” and “long-term user value” caused a lot of questions in my mind. First, by applying a value to a person I see the user being turned into a product, which isn’t a surprise for me, but it is negative. And the value mentioned here is not at all to the user, it is the value it has to the company. In TikTok, users are seeing as an opportunity for the app to understand people better, direct them to where the app wants and showcase them to advertising based on their likes. The app will never show ads about women’s purses to a user who follows pages about men’s basketball, football, men’s boxing videos and male shoes. The ads to this person will be about the things they like. This is the user-value to TikTok, the way in which they can turn the person into a product. When it comes to long-term value, I think of even more powerful things such as how the person can be changed into what is better for TikTok. Hypothetically speaking, if Puma pays TikTok to sell products through the app, the algorithm could easily show users many videos about how competitors such as Nike and Adidas are having bad products and cause the user to, in the long-term, dislike the products and then switch to Puma.
    The “creator-value” I see as the way the app can use the video makers to influence the watchers. It has become a job in a very powerful industry to be a tiktoker, meaning people make a lot of money by being there and posting content, which in my opinion is mostly useless. The app and the algorithm probably analyze the users of a certain creator and then use him to control and influence the users, adding his value to the app. Lastly the “platform-value” is, in my view a way which everything is connected and together on TikTok. One example of that is the control the people who work in the app must cancel or delete videos they want, simply because in their opinion is not appropriate. While I agree that some topics and videos should be completely deleted because the content is dangerous or illegal, there have been cases of people who challenge the “common” idea of a sensible topic and are removed for a reason that makes no sense.
    Another reason which makes using this app dangerous is the fact that technology nowadays is always watching and listening. That means a cellphone can be in the side of a dinner table while a conversation is happening and be listening, making the information be absorbed and will be used in apps. I have had moments in which I was talking about something with friends and as soon as I open an app on my phone, advertising about the topic we were talking about comes up for me. Once I was having a conversation about what types of food I like and dislike and when I went to uber eats to order something, the app made a random suggestion of exactly the type of food I mentioned in the conversation. This could be a coincidence, but I have experienced multiple times and when something repeats it is hard to believe it was coincidental.
    To finalize, I would like to acknowledge and put out a counterpoint to my ideas. I recognize that tiktok has many useful pages and interesting information to be seen. There are many news pages, sports pages, and educational with cooking, religious and academic teachings. I know people who use TikTok in a very well-balanced way and are not addicted to it who have a healthy lifestyle, knows how to make good discussions and are understanding of the others’ opinions. Therefore, I see positive sides of the app, but as the article mentioned in the headline “TikTok reads your mind” and the use of this information, in my opinion, could be dangerous.

  9. Tik tok and all other social media platforms read your mind. When I scroll on tik tok and instagram I always get these ads and most of the time these ads that mostly apply to rather something I am thinking about or something that I did earlier in the day. This has to do with tik tok and social media algorithms. Tik toks algorithm focuses on stuff that we have searched and videos that we like, share, and watch repeatedly. Which is why for you pages are different for different types of people all over the world. Then this website will post ads based on what you watch or search. For example, if you watch a lot of basketball on tik tok they will post ads for fidgety things and little stuff you can use in your room. These videos on tik tok can change some people’s minds on some ideas. It is truly amazing how tik tok uses such small things to read our minds and find videos, and ads that fit us so well.

  10. I find it shocking how TikTok’s algorithmic manipulation makes it almost like a drug to people; I have had friends literally tell me not to get TikTok because even they realize how hard it is to put down. The tendency for the algorithm to provide material that isn’t satisfying mocks the behavior of a literal drug. It even sometimes promotes content that would drive some to self harm. It makes me glad to hear people tell me not to get it, as it strengthens my resolve that it is, in the end, harmful to user’s mental health. Some, however, do not realize that they are addicted, and I think this is a serious problem. It’s akin to using a drug and not being disclosed that it has harmful side effects.
    The article linked, The TikTok Algorithm Knew My Sexuality Better Than I Did, makes me think that rather than TikTok “reading their mind”, impressionable people could just be self projecting onto the content they see. I know how it feels to search for an identity and cling onto something that you think is you, but isn’t authentically you, if that makes sense. That’s just my theory though; the prospect warrants further research. Still, it worries me that this could be happening to children as young as 13 are using this app, and if my theory proves to have validity (which, if my knowledge on psychology is correct, it very well could), the dangers of TikTok should be spread to more people.

  11. Many social media platforms have tried to replicate Facebook’s success in recent years, but as we have seen very few can gain enough traction to be relevant. Instagram, Snapchat, and a few others have been extremely successful, but hundreds of other attempted social media platforms that did not gain the same traction as the ones mentioned. Tik Toc has taken social media by storm accumulating a total of 700 million users in a short period of time. They use an algorithm that tracks how long their users view a specific type of video, how much they interact with the post, and how consumers like posts to suggest similar videos. This platform heavily relies on its “for you page” instead of who users follow, meaning they capitalize on user engagement on its videos to decide what videos to show next. Their content ranges from sports highlights, to funny videos, and have some informative videos as well. Content creators also prefer this app because it seems easier to go viral because once your video starts picking up more views and interactions, the algorithm will start putting it on millions of peoples for you page. Tic Tok also capitalized on peoples short attention span, very few videos are longer than a minute, and on average way shorter. People can endlessly scroll and I even catch myself on it for way longer than I expect when laying in bed, or when I have free time between classes. It is a good way to entertain yourself, but always make sure you are careful with how much time you are spending on social media.

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