TikTok gives users another small peek into its algorithm's powerful mechanics

TikTok announced that users can now see in the app why videos are recommended to their For You page, further explaining how its algorithm works.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
Screenshot of phone showing TikTok algorithm
Image: TikTok

When scrolling the bottomless pit of videos on your TikTok #ForYou page, you've probably seen a video that makes you wonder, "What am I watching that would make this weird video show up on my For You page?" 

Today, TikTok announced that you can find the answer to that question in the app with a new feature

In a blog post, TikTok explains that users can now see why they are recommended certain content. When you see a video on the For You page, and you're not sure why it's there, you can tap the share button and the "why this video" icon.

Then, TikTok gives a few reasons why the algorithm recommended the video. These reasons can be that the video is popular in your region, that you're following the video's creator, or that its algorithm believes that the video is similar to videos you like.

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TikTok says that allowing users to understand why specific videos are on their For You page is an effort to achieve "meaningful transparency" between users and the platform. The goal of achieving more transparency comes after years of users not fully knowing how TikTok's algorithm works.

In 2020, TikTok explained that the basics of its For You algorithm lie in how users interact with videos on their For You page. When you first create a TikTok account, the videos on your For You page are there so the algorithm can learn what content you want to consume.

The user will see popular videos on a brand new TikTok account's For You page, usually from verified creators with millions of followers.

Then, the algorithm will learn your preferences when you watch videos in their entirety, like and comment on videos, and follow creators that you like, prompting similar videos to pop up on your For You page. 

By interacting with videos, users tell the algorithm what they like, and scrolling past or clicking "not interested" on other videos tells the algorithm what they prefer not to see. 

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But since the app skyrocketed in popularity in 2020, users have taken to other social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit to try to understand TikTok's omniscient algorithm. TikTok gathers data from users via their IP address, their device, what they're saying in TikTok direct messages, how users interact with ads, and biometric technology to store facial and voice patterns

TikTok's algorithm is a sophisticated example of a commonly used algorithm, one that can seem to know more about people than they know about themselves. Users have said TikTok knew their sexuality and medical diagnoses without disclosing them to the app.

So, that's probably why you think your For You page knows everything about you, and you're probably right. 

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