Have you ever been casually scrolling through TikTok and thought that an odd amount of depressing content kept coming up? There’s a serious reason for that. 

The New York Times got hold of a leaked internal document that provided a fascinating insight into just how the video platform keeps us all scrolling and scrolling. It turns out one of the ways they do this is by intentionally pushing users toward “sad” content.

Titled “TikTok Algo 101”, the leaked document was given to NYT by an individual authorised only to read it but not share it. The anonymous individual decided to still give it to the publication after becoming disturbed by the revelation that TikTok was knowingly pushing users toward “sad content that could induce self-harm.”

“The document explains frankly that in the pursuit of the company’s ‘ultimate goal’ of adding daily active users, it has chosen to optimize for two closely related metrics in the stream of videos it serves: ‘retention’ — that is, whether a user comes back — and ‘time spent.’ The app wants to keep you there as long as possible,” NYT wrote.

The document stated that the four main goals of TikTok’s algorithm are “user value”, “long-term user value”, “creator value”, and “platform value.” Although it might seem sinister to be intentionally pushing users in such a direction, “there’s nothing inherently sinister or incomprehensible about the TikTok recommendation algorithm outlined in the document” NYT noted.

There was another disturbing revelation contained in the document: a lack of respect for our privacy while using TikTok. According to a screenshot seen by NYT, the platform’s content moderators have access not only to publicly shared content but also to that which friends privately upload to the platform to share with each other.

That seems like a major issue, considering that other apps such as WhatsApp offer greater privacy through end-to-end encryption. So keep this in mind when you’re trying to watch fun TikTok dance clips and “sad” content keeps coming up – there’s a reason for it.

For more on this topic, follow the Tech Observer.

Watch WSJ’s guide to how TikTok’s algorithm figures you out:

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