WSJ Investigates “How TikTok’s Algorithm Figures Out Your Deepest Desires”

The Wall Street Journal recently published an investigative report titled “How TikTok’s Algorithm Figures Out Your Deepest Desires.”

With an estimated one billion users worldwide and 135 million in the U.S., TikTok is considered by some to be the most popular social media platform in the world.

The app relies on a specialized algorithm to suggest videos to users. As users watch certain types of videos, the algorithm makes a point to recommend similar videos in the future — a process sometimes called “rabbit holing.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s video delves into how “rabbit holing” works on TikTok — and why users should be concerned.

All of this comes as elected officials in New York are pushing for restrictions on social media algorithms. Lawmakers reportedly have offered legislation that would prohibit social media platforms from using algorithms to serve content to children without parental consent.

Last year the Arkansas Legislature passed the Social Media Safety Act — a good law by Sen. Tyler Dees (R – Siloam Springs) and Rep. Jon Eubanks (R – Paris) requiring major social media companies to ensure minors don’t access social media platforms without parental consent.

In response, tech giants — such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok — sued to strike down the Social Media Safety Act as unconstitutional.

Last summer U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks in Fayetteville blocked the State of Arkansas from enforcing the Social Media Safety Act. Among other things, Judge Brooks’ ruling claimed that Arkansas’ Social Media Safety Act is unconstitutionally broad and vague, and that most social media content is not “damaging, harmful, or obscene as to minors.”

Unfortunately, researchers have found the algorithms on social media platforms like TikTok actually serve teens what some call a steady “diet of darkness” online.

That’s part of the reason the Arkansas Attorney General’s office has sued TikTok and Meta — the company that owns Facebook and Instagram — arguing among other things that that the platforms’ algorithms force feeds many children a non-stop diet of objectionable content. Much of the evidence cited in the A.G.’s lawsuits corroborates what reporters at the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere have found.

As we have said before, there’s mounting evidence that — by design — social media algorithms like TikTok’s deliberately push objectionable content to kids and put users’ personal information at risk. With that in mind, it’s good to see policymakers taking action to rein in these tech giants.

Articles appearing on this website are written with the aid of Family Council’s researchers and writers.

Lawyers for TikTok, A.G.’s Office to Appear in Court Today

The Arkansas Attorney General’s office and lawyers representing social media giant TikTok are set to appear in state court this afternoon as part of one of the A.G.’s lawsuits alleging TikTok violated state consumer protection laws.

With an estimated one billion users worldwide and 135 million in the U.S., TikTok is considered by some to be the most popular social media platform in the world. However, last year Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin filed two lawsuits accusing TikTok of violating Arkansas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

One of the lawsuits alleges that TikTok failed to fully disclose that TikTok is subject to Chinese law — including “laws that mandate secret cooperation with intelligence activities of the People’s Republic of China.”

The other lawsuit — which is the subject of Wednesday’s court hearing — alleges the social media giant violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act by promoting “intensely sexualized” content — including content that sexualizes children — on its platform.

The lawsuit calls the TikTok app “a Chinese ‘Trojan Horse’ unleashed on unsuspecting American consumers,” and notes that “tens of millions of minors use TikTok in the United States.”

Once on the TikTok app, the Arkansas Attorney General’s office writes that TikTok’s algorithm “force-feeds” many children a non-stop diet of objectionable content.

Some of the objectionable content TikTok promotes to children includes:

  • Content depicting alcohol, tobacco, and drugs
  • Sexual content
  • Nudity
  • Suggestive themes
  • Violence
  • Intense profanity and obscenity

The lawsuit also alleges much of this content is available to teenagers even when using the app’s Restricted Mode that is intended to filter inappropriate material.

The A.G.’s legal complaint notes that TikTok’s algorithm actually promotes this content regardless of the user’s age — meaning that many children using TikTok may be exposed to this type of material routinely.

The lawsuit alleges that TikTok has downplayed just how prevalent this type of material is on its platform and has deceptively labeled the app as being appropriate for ages 13 and up when TikTok really should be rated 17+.

The A.G.’s complaint against TikTok concludes by asking the court to stop TikTok’s actions and award the state up to $10,000 per violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act in accordance with state law.

You can read the Arkansas Attorney General’s entire complaint here.