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New research reveals secrets of TikTok's algorithm

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TikTok, despite its status as a potentially disappearing application, still claims one billion monthly users worldwide. If the application is young, its rather meteoric rise is often linked to its algorithm. With unstoppable precision, this one has even inspired other major social networksso that they stay in the race, like Facebook or Instagram.

Franziska Roesner, associate professor at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Computer Engineering at the University of Washington, decided to take a closer look closely on this algorithm. This study, which brought together 347 TikTok users, will be presented during the 2024 edition of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) web conference. The idea of ​​the study is to decipher this algorithm a little more precisely. Roesner provided some details in this interview given to the media Futurity, this is what came out.< /em>

L’recommendation algorithm: formidable precision

The 347 people recruited thus made it possible to collect 9.2 million video recommendations. The researchers looked at the first 1,000 videos suggested to users. They discovered that, in a proportion oscillating between a third and a half, these suggestions actually corresponded to the centers of interest predicted by the platform. Quite an impressive result.

Another study presented by the same team at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Honolulu examined a different theme. Engagement trends, i.e. how users interact with content on that platform. Here too, the results prove that the algorithm is quite powerfulto maximize user presence time in a disproportionate manner.

Over the first four months of use, the average time users spent on TikTok increased by half an hour daily. In the most extreme cases, this could reach up to 50 minutes. It's almost magic at this level!

Understanding the impact of the algorithm on users

Is TikTok's algorithm manipulative? This one has already attracted the wrath of’ Amnesty International last year, the NGO accusing it of being dangerous for the mental health of the youngest. As Roesner points out in the interview: “If the algorithm exploits people's weaknesses towards certain types of content, it could push them towards extreme content that is harmful to their mental health or exposes them to misinformation ”.

The researcher even describes it as a “ black box ”, of which even designers do not understand how it works in detail. This opaque nature reinforces its addictive power, as shown by the increasing time that users devote to TikTok. The algorithm would therefore be completely out of control?

As Roesner explains, the important thing is to take an interest in the characteristics of the predictions to understand it further. « As researchers, we are interested in the features it uses to make its predictions, because we can't really understand if and why a prediction is problematic without understanding those features ” says -she.

The study conducted by Roesner highlights the impact of the algorithm on the ;user experience. Indeed, the platform excels at offering relevant and attractive content, pushing them to ask for more. An addiction that can have harmful consequences on their mental health, their well-being and their capacity for discernment.

Exploitation videos and exploration videos

Study reveals a central mechanic at the heart of the TikTok algorithm: the subtle alternation between exploration videos and exploitation videos.

Exploration videos are there to guide users to unknown regions of the web< /strong>, introducing them to new content and creators whose existence they never suspected. Roesner explains: “ An exploration video is distinguished by its lack of connection with previous videos viewed by the user, n&#8217 ;using neither similar hashtags nor known creators. The interest here is to discover completely new content thanks to the algorithm”.

Exploitation videos, on the other hand, become wise guides, leading them into familiar territories, nourishing passions and thus strengthening pre-existing affinities. « Exploitation videos are those that follow the logic of “We know what you like, we will present you more videos related to these interests” » she specifies.

This clever balance between exploration and exploitation constitutes the keystone of user engagement and it is thanks to this, in part, that TikTok manages to keep its users captive, tossing them between discovery and reinforcement.

The study's work is critically important to better understanding how TikTok affects its users, but it cannot explain everything. There are still many gray areas and deserve more in-depth research. In an ideal world, ByteDance (parent company of TikTok) should be able to play the game more transparently. Given the colossal sums at stake and in the current state of things, there is little chance of this happening. This is why science is of paramount importance. Because it provides us with the tools and knowledge to navigate and understand these design complexities, regardless of commercial interests.

  • Two studies looked at the TikTok algorithm to better understand how it works.
  • This is so well established that it offers appropriate videos to its users at a very high ratio and causes a daily increase in the time of use of the application over the first months of operation. ;#8217;usage.
  • This work also highlighted the importance of the alternation between videos exploration and exploitation videos.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116