Investigation Reveals Social Media App TikTok’s Learning Algorithm

wall street journal creates bot accounts to test what makes tiktok tick

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A Wall Street Journal report solved TikTok’s content algorithm. In an exclusive video, the newspaper showed how lingering over any content on the app alters its perceptions of what you want to see. TikTok content is based on 60-second videos.

Woman recording herself on her smartphone with ring-light
TikTok is a popular video-sharing social networking service that is used to create personalized short-form videos that last from 15 seconds to 3 minutes. Photo By PhotoJuli86 / Shutterstock

A recent look into the social media app TikTok conducted by The Wall Street Journal uncovered how its content algorithm tailors itself to your personal TikTok experience. “The Wall Street Journal created dozens of automated accounts that watched hundreds of thousands of videos to reveal how the social network knows you so well,” a caption under the video read.

In the video, reporters explain that for every second that a user keeps a certain piece of content on their screen, TikTok’s algorithm adjusts the kinds of content that user will see in the future. For example, watching videos of puppies will populate more videos of puppies onto the user’s content feed.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s likely because of the app’s controversy during the Trump administration, in which the former president sought to ban the app. Regardless of whether or not it should have a place on U.S. smartphones, what is it?

TikTok bases its service on 60-second videos posted by users. The videos can be liked and shared; their creators can be followed. In her video series Social Media 101, photographer and educator Pei Ketron explained more about the app.

What Is TikTok?

“TikTok is used to create short music, lip-sync, dance, comedy, and talent videos up to 60 seconds long,” Ketron said. “Audio is a key element of these video creations. Content on TikTok can quickly go viral and lead to vastly popular challenges where countless users create and share their own version of the original viral video.”

Overall, according to Ketron, the appeal of TikTok lies in being a fun and easy way to watch short and entertaining videos. Teenagers who think outside the box and have unique senses of creativity tend to influence content on TikTok, especially in regard to the simple but thorough editing tools the app provides.

For example, several people can collaborate remotely on a TikTok video montage. If everyone owns the same model of football, one creator can throw the ball off-screen while the next creator has a local friend toss it to them from outside the frame, when they can throw it off their screen, and so on. When cut together properly, the effect is that one football is flying across time and space to reach all participants.

If a video like this catches on, other creators may imitate it and try bigger and bigger things in response. Simple fun and elaborate challenges like these fuel TikTok. Another is the “duet” function.

“This basically allows you to record a split-screen video in reaction to somebody else’s original video,” Ketron said. “So, oftentimes this is used as a way of silently reacting to the original video or adding some sort of verbal commentary or dancing alongside with somebody. And another cool way that people utilize it is by actually popping into the other side of the videos.”

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily