So This Is How TikTok Understands You So Well

Have you ever wondered how TikTok seems to know your interests and preferences better than you do? It’s like the app has an unspoken connection with your soul, anticipating what you want to watch next. Many attribute this eerie precision to TikTok’s enigmatic algorithm, often referred to as its all-seeing eye. But have you ever wondered how exactly TikTok and its algorithm manage to curate such a hyper-specific For You page? Today, we delve into a new report from The Wall Street Journal that sheds light on the inner workings of TikTok’s algorithm.

Unveiling the Mystery

To uncover the truth, The Wall Street Journal conducted a fascinating investigation. They created over 100 automated accounts, also known as bots, each with specific identifiers such as age, location, and interests. These bots watched countless videos, spending time on TikToks that aligned with their preferred content. Remarkably, TikTok quickly learned the interests of most of the bots in less than two hours, some in under 40 minutes.

The Power of Watch Time

While TikTok takes into consideration the content you like, share, and follow, The Wall Street Journal’s findings unveiled a significant factor that trumps them all: watch time. Put simply, TikTok knows which videos you watch in full, what you rewatch, and what you scroll past after only a few seconds. It uses this information to curate personalized recommendations exclusively for you.

Privacy Matters

Considering TikTok’s past controversies with user privacy, it’s important to address these concerns. A spokesperson for TikTok, who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, emphasized that the app does not listen through your microphone or read your text messages to serve personalized videos. This assurance echoes a blog post from TikTok in June 2020, around the time the Trump administration discussed a potential TikTok ban. The blog post explained that TikTok recommends videos based on various factors, including the content you like, comments you post, hashtags you engage with, your device type, and your location settings.

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The Role of Watch Time

Although the blog post didn’t explicitly reveal the weight of watch time in the algorithm’s decision-making process, it mentioned that a strong indicator of interest, such as finishing watching a longer video from start to end, carries more weight than a weak indicator, like the viewer and creator being in the same country. In line with The Wall Street Journal’s report, it becomes clear that TikTok’s algorithm heavily relies on what you watch to determine what it shows you.

“The algorithm can detect the content that resonates with your vulnerability,” says Guillaume Chaslot, founder of Algotransparency. He further adds that the algorithm decides what content is most likely to keep you engaged on the platform, regardless of whether you love it or watch it out of curiosity. As long as you keep watching, TikTok achieves its goal.

TikTok’s algorithm holds incredible power, enabling it to unravel your interests and tailor its recommendations. So, the next time you wonder how TikTok knows you so well, remember that behind the magic lies an intricate web of watch time, your engagement, and the algorithm’s persistent quest to provide content that keeps you captivated.

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