TikTok to let users reset ‘For You’ feeds to freshen recommendations

People will be able to refresh their feeds “if their recommendations no longer feel relevant or entertaining”. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO – Viral video-sharing app TikTok unveiled plans on Thursday to let users reset their “For You” feeds, offering people a chance to get a clean slate of recommendations if their interests have shifted or they have grown tired of seeing the same kinds of content.

“This feature allows someone to view content on their For You feeds as if they just signed up for TikTok,” the company said in a statement.

People will be able to refresh their feeds “if their recommendations no longer feel relevant or entertaining”, TikTok said, and the system will offer videos based on new interactions on the app.

As part of the rollout, the company said it is also updating its approach to content moderation to minimise videos with “themes of sadness, extreme exercise or dieting, or that’s sexually suggestive”.

While this type of content does not technically violate the company’s policies, it can still cause harm if viewed repeatedly, TikTok said.

TikTok rose to prominence by perfecting the algorithm – the software-based recommendation engine – that powers its feeds. The algorithm gives the app an uncanny ability to show videos that people actually like, and as a result, growth has exploded to more than a billion users worldwide, many of them teenagers and young adults.

Charm offensive

The new feature is a significant shift for the social media giant, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, and comes in the wake of increased scrutiny around the company’s data privacy practices.

In recent months, TikTok executives have been on a charm offensive in Washington, seeking to persuade lawmakers that the app is safe for US users.

To address national security concerns, TikTok leadership has considered splitting off from its Chinese parent company, and the United States government has told TikTok’s owners that they must sell their shares or risk the app being banned, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Resetting the feeds of suggested videos on TikTok’s app will not change anyone’s existing privacy settings, the company said, such as filtering out videos with certain hashtags or skipping videos from a particular creator.

The recommendation changes will mean that if TikTok detects that a user is repeatedly watching sad videos or those touting extreme diets, for example, the system will switch out the content.

“If multiple videos with these themes are identified, they will be substituted with videos about other topics to reduce the frequency of these recommendations and create a more diverse discovery experience,” the company said.

It added that it also does not want to make users feel more isolated or limit people’s access to potentially helpful information about how others handle difficult emotions.

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew has been asked to testify before a House of Representatives committee next week about the app’s data privacy and security practices, and the company’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. BLOOMBERG

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