TikTok Newsletter 51

The Algorithm. The President.


This is Understanding TikTok your weekly TikTok investigation. There was a devastating flood in Germany last week. I saw endless videos covering it on TikTok. Many of them seemed to be eye-witness reports by people being affected. Maybe the catastrophe served as some sort of collective german mainstream TikTok event?
My name is Marcus.

This week we talk about:

🪄 The Algorithm
🇵🇰 The President
🇪🇸 The Spanish Case

🪄 The Algorithm

As soon as someone starts talking about THE ALGORITHM the lights go down and suspenseful music starts. The algorithm has the aura of magic. The unknown that mysteriously does things we do not fully understand. Well, like promoting homophobic and transphobic content or being racist, as i showed in 🤖 The Algorithm (#49).

Like most algorithms, the answer involves a lot less magic than it might seem, tweets Will Oremus pointing to a WSJ investigation: How TikTok's Algorithm Figures Out Your Deepest Desires. It is a worthwhile “primer and highly recommended--maybe especially as a companion piece and corrective to the TikTok blog post” – i have written about in 🧮 The Algorithm (#03). 

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. And while this is a worthwhile attempt to find out more about how the platform works it is important to point out the limitations of the approach and synthetic accounts in general.

They heavily rely on factors like watch time which is important for sure. But they miss elements like comments or general human behaviour. Chris Stokel-Walker points out: “here's no indication they do anything other than watch which, err, would explain why their algorithm relies on watch time rather than other signals”

And now let’s all go back to this great piece I’m Scared of the Person TikTok Thinks I Am. And let’s not forget that “algorithms are optimized to achieve a specific outcome...that outcome is usually a click, or a share, or more time spent in the app” as Julian McAuley, an associate computer-science professor at UC San Diego explains in the article: “It’s not really creepy. That feeling is just a result of the fact that any given user will be very similar to another set of users. It’s not that you feel your algorithm is wrong. You feel that your historical actions aren’t representative of who you are.” 🤔

🇵🇰 The President of Pakistan is now on TikTok

Wait, what?! Yeah, i know. It’s complicated. Three weeks ago Pakistan authorities  blocked the app after a court ruling (AFP). Again. Chinese-owned TikTok had been shut down twice before in Pakistan. Compare (#16) and (#17).  After that i honestly lost track. Before the ban TikTok had removed nearly 6.5 million videos from Pakistan (Tribune). Whatever. Three days after ban number three a Pakistani court lifted the latest ban. Update! The popular TikTok video-sharing app was blocked Wednesday (July 21) in Pakistan for a fourth time because of "inappropriate content", the country's telecommunication regulator said (AFP).

Nevertheless Arif Alvi, the president – who by the way has an impressive Orthodontics background – wants “to spread the message of positivity & motivation for the youth of Pakistan.” Let’s see if it will reach them.

I still recommend the short Vice documentary Inside Pakistan’s War On TikTok. And remind you to keep the bigger picture in mind. Here is the China–Pakistan relations article on Wikipedia.

🇪🇸 Cuenta oficial - Spanish parties on TikTok

What are political parties doing on TikTok? The spanish case. The Google Scholar Alert pointed me to a paper by Laura Cervi and Carles Marín-Lladó (PDF). The results are not extraordinary but here are some things that i found worth mentioning: All Spanish political parties have adopted TikTok, including the five most important ones (PP, PSOE, Ciudadano, Podemos, and Vox). The parties do not yet “fully exploit TikTok’s affordances”. They hardly use challenges or duets. They “do not seem to have fully adopted TikTok as an integral part of their communication strategy.”

The most spanish parties use TikTok as an “old” medium meaning as a unidirectional communication channel. Challenger parties (Vox, Podemos) seem to better adapt by fostering interaction and engaging with their followers. Inspection of the most engaging posts reveals that they clearly display the characteristics of pop politics and politainment. 

Apart from that: The “political” element of TikTok remains unexplored in academic research, the authors write. But quoting Nahon 2016 “where there is social media there is politics.” Indeed! 

What else?

🇩🇪 BTW21
I started observing the German federal election 2021 on TikTok last week (#50). A couple of days ago TikTok introduced a Bundestagswahl Infoseite pointing to explanatory TikTok videos by german public broadcaster ARD. More infos here (german). In addition TikTok is automatically inserting a little message “Get info on the German federal election” with a link to that Infoseite on videos related to the topic just like they did with Covid-19 and there are additional infos if you search for election-related Hashtags. This automatic inserts seem to be an easy and low-cost approach but not a very extensive way to stop mis- and disinformation on the platform.

🆕 Live-Stream Features
TikTok has added some new elements to its live-streaming options, including scheduled events that you can promote, live Q & A, and a co-streaming option to enhance the experience (Social Media Today). Quote: None of these are ground-breaking additions, to be sure, but they do provide more capacity to utilize TikTok live-streams within your process, which, as noted, could have specific benefits for brands that are considering new approaches to video engagement.

The news gets a new spin when you add Turner Novak’s observation to it: “TikTok is heavily incentivizing creators to go live. I’m consistently hearing 5-10x increases in followers and video views on days you go live for 30-60 mins. Very important to watch as Live is huge for Douyin.” And – do you remember this great photo?

✂️ Twitch to TikTok
I am not into Twitch very much. I have just noticed that AOC’s last broadcast was already 6 months ago. Discovery on Twitch is tough, writes Techcrunch and features Crossclip, a new tool for sharing Twitch clips to TikTok. In fact you can share to  Instagram and YouTube too. But that is not the focus of this newsletter, right?!

🗣️ I want more
Are you comfy? All good? Just this unbearable task of swiping through the app? Clever people have solved this severe problem by swiping via voice. All you need is a voice command on your phone. Choose a random word like more and you never have to move your fingers again. Now eagerly waiting for brain implants. Here is a german How to video: Scrollen per Sprachbefehl.

Enough. Speak soon. Thx for reading. Feel free to share. I’d be happy. Just like Glaive.