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TikTok wants to tweak its algorithm to avoid problematic content

TikTok today announced it would be rolling out additional customization features to its “For You” feed, the endlessly scrolling video page that made the app so popular. The company acknowledged in a release today that its predictive algorithm could reinforce negative experiences by repeating videos about emotionally volatile topics — like breakups.

TikTok came to popularity on the strength of its algorithm. Bordering on prescience, the app would recommend users’ videos that adhered so closely to their tastes, it was even claimed to predict the sexuality of people who had no awareness of it themselves. At the same time, the algorithm’s tendency to give you more of what you’re interested in can lead to negative outcomes if what you are interested in is having a negative effect on your life.

To roll back to the breakup example, TikTok points out that someone who has recently broken up with a partner could end up being deluged by several breakup videos on their feed, reinforcing negative emotions. It’s an issue that other social media platforms have struggled with, and one that none have effectively solved yet. TikTok’s approach won’t just wholesale banish such content from the site. It’ll look into varying the frequency these videos are shown on the feed, so they don’t “cluster” and are interspersed with unrelated videos.

“We’re also working to recognize if our system may inadvertently be recommending only very limited types of content that, though not violative of our policies, could have a negative effect if that’s the majority of what someone watches, such as content about loneliness or weight loss. Our goal is for each person’s For You feed to feature a breadth of content, creators, and topics,” the TikTok team said, consulting with experts in fields ranging from psychology to AI ethics.

The company will also now expand its curation features (primarily a not interested button at this time) with a new tool to “help people customize their feed – whether for a vegetarian who wants to see fewer meat recipes, or someone working on self-esteem who would rather see fewer beauty tutorials.”

It’s not yet clear when this new tool will become available, but we’ll update you when we find out more.

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