How the TikTok algorithm figures out your kids (and what you can do to ensure that things stay above board)

Every wonder what the hook on TikTok is that keeps our teens coming back for more and more and more? If your t/ween is on TikTok they have undoubtedly landed up in a TikTok rabbit hole where just 5 minutes turns into 40 – this is largely because of something called the “For You” page (aren’t you feeling special already?)

 The “For You” page is pretty much the landing page of TikTok filled with videos based almost entirely on your child’s interests. And how does it know your child’s interests – well there’s the rub! If your screenager is into cooking – he/she will keep getting fed more and more Tik Toks of cooking and if he/she is into French bulldogs licking kittens, then this is what will show up on their page too. We can hear you saying well that’s okay then cause my child is really only interested in dances and a bit of the odd football merch. Well it ain’t so simple.


Last week, the Wall Street Journal published this pretty terrifying video which explored how the TikTok algorithm really works and just how intimately it gets to know its users.


The researchers ran an experiment where they created a whole lot of bot accounts with specifically assigned ‘“interests”. The bots “watched” TikTok videos and paused or replayed any videos which had images or hashtags that related to those interests. They then reviewed the results with an algorithm expert.

The findings: if you hesitate on a weird video that catches you off guard, there’s no way for the algorithm to differentiate that from content you actually like and want to see more of vs what just caught your interest for a split second or maybe even weirded you out in the way a bad accident does – you know shouldn’t look but hey, you do. One of the bot test accounts paused on depression and mental health-related videos. After 36 minutes, 93% of the videos shown to this bot account were about sadness or depression.

The experiment demonstrates how quickly a user can be exposed to potentially harmful content and be sucked into a harmful TikTok rabbit hole.

So… does this mean you have to delete TikTok, breathe into a brown paper bag and throw your tween’s phone into the ocean? Not necessarily…


IF YOU HAVE A T/WEEN WHO IS ALREADY ON TIKTOK HERE IS WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Have some fun with your tween by tricking the tricking the algorithm  – spend some time with your tween intentionally liking/ lingering or sharing videos which are not your interest such as clowns (who like those anymore?!) or gardening etc – this shakes things up, brings up new video’s and makes for some great laughs.

With a teen you may not get the same privilege but you can explain how the algorithm works and suggest they have some fun with friends (that’s the trick), seeing if they can shift the feed to walrus’ on heat or Porshe’s that land in swimming pools. They may shake their head at you, but at KLIKD, we have tried and tested this suggestion with teens and behind the scenes, they pretty keen to get control of their feed rather than their feed controlling them!

• Download our free Parents’ Ultimate Guide to TikTok eBook. It’s fun, bite size chunks of easy reading. Of course it also has a section on how to enable “Restricted Mode,” edit the “for you” page to limit explicit/harmful content and set up the other privacy controls.

As always have regular check-ins and conversations with your screenager

CONVERSATION STARTERS

o If one of your friends asked you what the ‘theme’ of most your videos on TikTok was, what do you think you’d say?

What is like for you when you see stuff on TikTok that doesn’t really fit in with most of the TikToks you see? Is it surprising but fun, scary but thrilling, weird, but who cares?


o I watched this really interesting video – Do you know how the TikTok algorithm works? Imagine if you could control the feed instead of the feed controlling you. I know a way to trick the algorithm – do you?


o I know taking a break from TikTok is hard – it’s made to be additive so I get it. Let’s decide together on what feels fair in terms of time out from TikTok…you start. Ideas might be one week on Tiktok one week off. Or no TikTok on school nights. The idea is to help your screenager feel like they can leave the app and return to it without needing the daily fix.

 Our eBook has tons more Conversation Starters on TikTok.


• Sign up to the Klikd App to make sure your screenager is sufficiently sussed for the online world, knows the signs to look out for when something doesn’t sit right, is alive to their own online vulnerabilities, comes to talk to you when they are concerned and makes all round better decisions online – giving you the sigh of relief you have been waiting for….and time for that well deserved glass of wine in peace and quiet.

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