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The For You feed on TikTok is valuable real estate, and there are countless online posts featuring advice and best practices on how to stake a claim to part of that land, but the most foolproof method of doing so is apparently out of the control of brands and creators.
Emily Baker-White of Forbes spoke with six current and former employees of TikTok and parent company ByteDance and reviewed internal communications and documents confirming the existence of a practice referred to within the companies as “heating.”
Baker-White reported that heating enables employees at the two companies to bypass TikTok’s algorithm and choose specific videos that will see boosted distribution, citing an internal TikTok document that read, “The heating feature refers to boosting videos into the For You feed through operation intervention to achieve a certain number of video views. The total video views of heated videos accounts for a large portion of the daily total video views, around 1% to 2%, which can have a significant impact on overall core metrics.”
Sources told Baker-White one of the uses for heating is to coax brands and influencers into partnerships by inflating the view counts of their videos, giving those that the platform was pursuing business relationships with priority over others.
Baker-White also reported that three sources were aware of misuses of heating by employees, such as using the practice on their own accounts or accounts belonging to people they had personal relationships with and spouses, and she added that one document mentioned an incident of this type leading to over 3 million views for an account.
Two of Baker-White’s sources told her employees often felt as if they were on their own in determining whether videos should be heated, as an internal document titled “TikTok Heating Policy” said heating could be used to “attract influencers” and “promote diverse content,” but also to “push important information” and promote “relevant videos that were missed by the recommendations algorithms.”
TikTok spokesperson Jamie Favazza told Baker-White, “We promote some videos to help diversify the content experience and introduce celebrities and emerging creators to the TikTok community. Only a few people, based in the U.S., have the ability to approve content for promotion in the U.S., and that content makes up approximately 0.002% of videos in For You feeds.”
Fellow TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan later said in a statement, “Under the national security agreement currently being considered by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., all protocols and processes for promoting videos in the U.S. would be auditable by CFIUS and third-party monitors; only vetted TikTok U.S. data security personnel would have the ability to ‘heat’ videos in the U.S. In addition, source code review by Oracle will verify that there are no alternate means of promoting content.”