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Unlike Facebook, TikTok will reveal its algorithms in order to build trust in its policy enforcement

Social media shakedown

tiktok app on smartphone
Image: AP

TikTok, the app that your teenager spends more time scrolling through than you ever spent on one single thing your entire life, is facing a bit of scrutiny lately. The app, owned by Chinese company Bytedance, has been the subject of serious privacy concerns, but really no more than the rest of your social media apps. The kicker here is the Beijing connection, but is that really a deal-breaker? Ask a teen, they don’t give a shit.

Just this morning President Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV told the White House reporter pool that “we’re looking at TikTok, we’re thinking about making a decision,” which generally means he has no idea what TikTok is and there is no plan to address it whatsoever. He’s been pushing a ban on the social platform, considering its ties to China, but President Waffle Iron hasn’t exactly been consistent when it comes to China.

In response to all this chaos surrounding its app, TikTok has recently switched CEOs, hiring former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, a super white guy with a square jaw who oversaw the launch of Disney+ to soften the Chinese connection. Hey the CEO is a white guy so TikTok totally isn’t stealing your data and giving it to the Chinese government now, cool! Yeah, ok.

Regardless, in a basically unheard of action by a social media company, Mayer released a statement that claims TikTok will be releasing its code that drives its content-moderation algorithms.

With our success comes responsibility and accountability. The entire industry has received scrutiny, and rightly so. Yet, we have received even more scrutiny due to the company’s Chinese origins. We accept this and embrace the challenge of giving peace of mind through greater transparency and accountability. We believe it is essential to show users, advertisers, creators, and regulators that we are responsible and committed members of the American community that follows US laws.

Even more, we believe our entire industry should be held to an exceptionally high standard. That’s why we believe all companies should disclose their algorithms, moderation policies, and data flows to regulators. We will not wait for regulation to come, but instead TikTok has taken the first step by launching a Transparency and Accountability Center for moderation and data practices. Experts can observe our moderation policies in real-time, as well as examine the actual code that drives our algorithms. This puts us a step ahead of the industry, and we encourage others to follow suit.

The reasoning behind this is to allow experts to observe how policies are enforced, provide data flows to regulators and assuage some of the paranoia surrounding alleged data-harvesting by the Chinese government. Mayer also urged other social media companies to do the same, on the same day CEOs of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon face Congress in antitrust hearings. Who knows what will come of that though, as Congress proved with its last conversation with Zuckerberg that it is too old and disconnected to know what the fuck it is dealing with.

With Facebook set to launch Reels (and apparently offering cold hard cash to lure influencers away from TikTok), now is the time for TikTok to do something to save itself and set itself apart from Facebook and its ilk. Creating trust by opening up its code to whoever wants or needs to review it is a huge step and hopefully, Congress is reading about this today before they step into chambers.

Being able to cite TikTok as a social media app that is embracing transparency might give them ammunition against Facebook especially, a company that needs some serious slapping.

Antitrust hearings aside, TikTok will likely survive beyond this current criticism. It won’t be banned in the United States, regardless of what President Golf Balls says and regardless of what happens in Congress today. Bringing on Mayer was a smart move and his immediate action to create transparency is as much an olive branch to regulators as it is a gauntlet thrown to other social media companies. Let’s see if they pick it up.

Have any thoughts on this? Do you think TikTok is doing something good here? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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