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How the TikTok Algorithm Works

With about 850 million monthly active users and having been downloaded over two billion times, TikTok, despite being in the market for over three years, has recently increased its popularity by a large margin. The app specializes in its short formed videos, forcing users to create content that is displayed for a maximum of sixty seconds and leaving the users with the desire for more. The app’s incredible algorithm traps the user in a constant cycle of videos, causing users to spend more time on the app than originally intended. When first opening up the TikTok app, the “For You” page is immediately displayed with videos ready for the user to watch. Over time, the videos are curated towards the user’s preferences based on the user’s interactions with individual videos via liking, commenting, and sharing. By providing recommendations tailored to a user’s interests, TikTok is able to keep users engaged for a longer period of time and ultimately generate more revenue from the user staying on the app. With a simple swipe of a finger, users are immediately provided with a new video to watch, allowing companies like TikTok to take advantage of positive reinforcement by rewarding users with new content to be entertained with.

This constant cycle of recommended videos is what allows content creators to gain views at a faster rate than other social media platforms and what allows newer content creators to launch their career path as an influencer. A spokesperson from Bytedance, owner of TikTok, explains, “Artificial intelligence powers all of Bytedance’s content platforms. We build intelligent machines that are capable of understanding and analyzing text, images, and videos using natural language processing and computer vision technology. This enables us to serve users with the content that they find most interesting, and empower creators to share moments that matter in everyday life to a global audience.” By using natural language processing and computer vision technology, TikTok can analyze newly posted videos of their content and audio to understand the general concept of what the video entails. After retaining this information, TikTok shares the video with a small subset of its users, generally those who reacted positively in the past to similar content. If the video gains positive feedback through interactions, the video will be shared to more users with similar interests. On the other hand, if the video does not gain engagement from users, the amount of users the video is shared to will be limited, decreasing its potential to go viral. Essentially, TikTok’s algorithm dissects the video and user interaction in various forms such as number of times the video is rewatched, likes, comments, shares, hashtags used, and even potentially the device a user is using. Through all of these factors and tracking metrics, TikTok’s algorithm is able to formulate a ranking system using Artificial Intelligence that ultimately, not only allows users to gain more views, but also allows the company to collect accurate data from the user to create a unique cohesive feed for individuals to enjoy.

Overall, TikTok’s algorithm has generated huge successes for the company. Although there are positives and negatives to this algorithm, as a user, it is important to keep an open mind when receiving content that TikTok chooses to feed as it is tailored towards our preferences. In the end, it is up to us to be aware of this existing algorithm so we do not get pulled into an endless cycle of scrolling.


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