How TikTok's shaky algorithm fails to protect users from malicious content

How TikTok’s shaky algorithm fails to protect users from malicious content

A new report has discovered that content creators are exploiting Tik Tok algorithm flaws to promote content potentially harmful to the mental health of other users.

Average TikTok Users Expenditure 95 minutes Daily on the platform – that’s over 1.5 hours scrolling through videos ranging from 3 seconds to 3 minutes. And as we all know by now, the user base is very small.

Of the more than 80 million monthly active users in the United States, 60 percent are between 16 and 24 years old. And with over a billion users, this means that a lot of vulnerable young people are consuming TikTok content at an alarming rate across the world.

But does the platform have proper filters to protect its users from potentially harmful content? not according to New report from inside healtha US-based organization that provides support to individuals with eating disorders.

TikTok’s algorithm has long been criticized for leading users into a “content rabbit hole”, repeatedly showing similar videos in its main feed (known as “For You Page”) so that users are repeatedly bombarded with potentially dangerous content.

While all social media can affect our mental health, said Joe Mercurio, who is part of the creative team for Inside Health. TRT World That his team was “particularly shocked by the breadth of issues with TikTok”.

According to the report, TikTok has worked to reduce its content loop from becoming toxic, but content creators are finding new ways to exploit algorithmic flaws to promote their videos.

An organization within Health has identified eight major problems that have amplified the unsafe content surrounding eating disorders (ED).

In order to access videos outside of the For You Page, users can search for content through the app’s various search channels: hashtag search, user search, video search and even off-platform through web search.

Many dangerous keywords and terms, such as those related to promoting EDs, are on the “Block” list and users also have the option to customize this by restricting certain words further.

For example, the platform blocks words like “anorexia,” so if a user searches for that term, a message says “You are not alone” and directs them to a list of resources for Eating Disorder Support.

However, intentional misspellings or substitutions such as “anarexi” and “eat maverick” can bypass bans on keywords considered harmful – eg, unhealthy eating habits and negative perceptions of body image.

And how many unblocked words and misspellings are there? The report compiled a “word cloud” related to eating disorders and found the total volume of views to be greater than 1.3 billion.

“These findings are concerning because even though TikTok users intentionally block certain hashtags and search terms, eating content related to the disorder still made its way into users’ feeds,” Mercurio said.

He added, “It is important that we highlight this issue because a lot of vulnerable people on the app may find this content impressive, especially if they are in recovery.”

Read more: Tiktok, Covid bubbles and body image: Why eating disorders are on the rise

(within health)

Keyword loopholes

Keywords can also be modified using homonyms, letter-like characters, or using accented or foreign versions of English letters.

The report says that the TikTok search engine often matches these duplicates with their properly written counterparts and allows malicious content to enter through this channel.

Users can also use TikTok’s autocomplete feature to find keywords that avoid filtering. They are given options for keywords to aid in the search as well as the number of views indicating the popularity associated with each search within the app.

Mercurio explained how users can abuse this feature to find new, popular words that are not yet blocked to reveal hidden content.

“The autocomplete results for starting searches on our test account were particularly shocking, especially given that one of our searches included the word ‘one’ and that nearly every autocomplete result was associated with anorexia,” Mercurio said.

Read more: How Snapchat and Instagram Beauty filters are destroying our confidence

And how many unblocked words and misspellings are there?  The report compiled

And how many unblocked words and misspellings are there? The report compiled a “word cloud” related to eating disorders and found the total volume of views to be greater than 1.3 billion. (within health)

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Eating disorders are among the The deadliest mental illness, second only to opioid overdose in the United States. It is estimated that one death from an eating disorder occurs every 52 minutes, resulting in 10,200 deaths each year.

Shira L. Charpentier, founder of Beyond Rules Recovery, a peer support system for people with eating disorders, said TRT World That social media provides “fertile ground for comparisons, which are detrimental to anyone with an eating disorder.”

Apps like TikTok have content “about losing weight, working out, the magic formula for a leaner body, supplements/shakes that will help you burn fat, fitness apps to track anything and everything, extreme diets, intermittent fasting, and I can keep going,” Charpentier said.

And as the platform continues to expand, with 104 million downloads in the last month alone, countless young people are at risk of being exposed to this content unless more efficient checks are carried out.

From offering users alternative algorithms like rating videos from “latest” to implementing a human-monitored review to better understand the actual target of viral sounds, Inside Health suggested five solutions for TikTok.

Their main suggestion is to expand the TikTok block list and apply it evenly across all search options. They created a file crowdsourced block list “Where anyone can submit keywords they think should be blocked to make TikTok a safer space for everyone.”

But Charpentier warns that “it would be nearly impossible to block harmful content on social media due to compromising freedom of expression”.

“The responsibility we have as experts in eating disorders is to educate the public and put the message of recovery and hope out there, in the chance that they come across these publications,” Charpentier said.

“Take a break from social media and find other ways to spend your time, grow relationships, discover what you’re passionate about, and learn to be okay with just yourself without using social media as filler or distraction.”

Source: TRT World

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