TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign.
Media Matters reviewed videos that TikTok recommended to our “For You” page after we showed interest in anti-LGBTQ content. After we clicked “like” on one anti-LGBTQ video, TikTok almost instantly began recommending more. As similar videos were liked, our “For You” page quickly became dominated by almost exclusively anti-LGBTQ content. Some of these videos even went viral, with one showing a celebration of LGBTQ people being arrested racking up roughly 9.4 million views. This video was from an explicitly anti-LGBTQ account with fewer than 55,000 followers -- meaning TikTok’s algorithm had picked up and widely circulated the video. In each case, this content was placed on our “For You” page and required no additional searching.
It is difficult to explain in words just how many videos targeting the LGBTQ community were -- and continue to be -- promoted by TikTok’s recommendation algorithm. However, seeing the content as a user scrolls the “For You” page provides a stark visual.
The active spread of explicitly anti-LGBTQ videos isn’t a new problem for TikTok, but it appears that the platform has yet to stop it -- even though the company claims to prohibit discriminatory and hateful content targeting sexual orientation and gender identity. TikTok also posted an update in early June celebrating Pride Month and promising to “foster a welcoming environment” and “remove hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ content or accounts that attempt to bully or harass people on our platform.” Given the content being circulated by the algorithm once a user begins interacting with anti-LGBTQ videos, it is clear that TikTok has yet to fulfill these promises.
Instead, TikTok is curating far-right echo chambers for its users. The platform’s popularity arose from its ability to hyper-personalize recommendations to the interests of individual users, but this has created a situation in which TikTok can quickly generate an overtly hateful feed of anti-LGBTQ content. It's long past time for TikTok to enforce its own policies against the bigotry and discrimination being promoted on its platform.