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Two positive TikTok studies… and a third that’s less so


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TikTok has commissioned and published two new studies to trumpet its impact on music and culture, although a third study also published yesterday – an investigation of its recommendation algorithm’s workings by the Wall Street Journal – offers a considerably less sunny outlook on the social app’s impact.

On the sunny side, MRC Data authored a study of TikTok and music, with a survey finding that 75% of respondents say they discover new artists through TikTok, while 63% say they heard new music on the app that they had never heard before.

67% said they are more likely to look for tracks on streaming platforms that they heard on TikTok, and 67% would like to see videos from brands featuring popular or trending songs on TikTok. This surely wasn’t TikTok’s intention, but it does draw attention to one of current legal questions around these apps, and how brands use music within them.

Sony Music is currently suing fitness brand Gymshark for tracks used in videos on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, saying that it “has not paid for the privilege to use the sound recordings that are featured in them”. Users may like brands to use popular tracks, but there are licensing pitfalls around that.

The second TikTok-commissioned study is by research firm Flamingo, and is focused on brands, with a bunch of figures suggesting “TikTokers like brands better when they create or participate in a trend on TikTok” and “feel more connected to brands when they comment on people’s posts” and “feel closer to brands they see on TikTok” and… well, you get the point.

Talking of what people are seeing on TikTok, though, the Wall Street Journal investigation is fascinating. Its journalists created dozens of bot accounts, each set to have certain interests governing which videos they lingered over.

The investigation explored how TikTok “figures out your unexpressed interests”, starting by serving a wide variety of popular videos, then drilling down based on your activity. In the case of the bots, it correctly identified their interests in as little as 40 minutes.

One account ended up in a rabbit hole where 93% of the videos served were depression-related. Another with a general interest in politics “wound up being served videos about election conspiracies and QAnon”. It’s not all bad, but as the WSJ video concludes: “While TikTok can draw out what makes you laugh, it can also make you wallow in your darkest thoughts…”

Stuart Dredge

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