Employees of TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, have revealed that the platform has a "heating" button to manually select videos to gain more views.
In a report by Forbes, six current and former TikTok employees as well as internal documents and communications said that some staff members in the US secretly hand-pick videos to boost on the For You Page in a practice called "heating."
The short-video platform's For You Page shows users curated videos from creators that they may not follow but TikTok's algorithm thinks that they may like based on past interactions and likes. In December 2022, TikTok added a "Why This Video" panel to its recommended videos to tell users why that specific content showed up on their FYP.
TikTok spokesperson Jaime Favezza told Forbes that they "heated" videos for a few reasons: to increase views, to introduce celebrities and emerging creators to the community, and to "promote some videos to help diversify the content experience."
Internal documents also indicate it could be used to "push important information" and "promote relevant videos that were missed by the recommendations algorithms."
However, employees are reportedly left to their own devices to determine which videos they will push, so there would be incidents where they would promote videos from friends, partners, or their own.
Users on the app won't be able to tell that a video is boosted as they appear the same as other content, without any labels like those used for sponsored videos and ads. Only a few videos, about .002% of FYP content, are heated, according to Favezza.
However, with the lack of transparency around heating, users will have a hard time telling which videos gained views and engagements organically.
Some users on Twitter have joked about the matter, saying stuff along the lines of "Who do we need to send donuts to to get that clicked for our content?"
Me on the first day as a TikTok employee “heating” up all my homies TikTok posts: pic.twitter.com/Xb9WtcM4fA— Oghenerie (@Oghenerie_jnr) January 21, 2023
Other social media apps have also done their fair share of boosting content from select creators. In 2018, Facebook was found inflating video viewership metrics for over a year.
Apps such as YouTube and Instagram have their own short-form video space in Shorts and Reels that are also becoming lucrative to creators.