TikTok is starting to offer users a new level of control over their For You page. The company announced today that you’ll be able to specify specific words or hashtags that you don’t want to see in your feeds, and the app will automatically filter them out. TikTok’s examples are pretty straightforward — like when you’ve finished a renovation and no longer want to see DIY videos or decide you don’t want to see cooking tutorials using a certain type of food or meat. But these types of filters could be used to control your stream much more carefully.
The platform is also rolling out two new automated moderation and filtering tools. One, called Content Tiers, categorizes content according to “thematic maturity” and is designed to prevent mature content of all types from being shown to younger users. (TikTok compared it to rating systems you’d find on movies or video games.) The other tries to identify videos that are okay one at a time but problematic in bulk — fad diets, related content to depression, etc. – and avoid showing them repeatedly to users. TikTok has been working on it for a while and is ready to roll it out.
These sorts of automatic tools are the bread and butter of TikTok, and the platform has mostly resisted giving users precise tools to control what content they see (or not see). Even the app’s layout shows its priorities: you can of course swipe to the Next feed, but the For You page is where TikTok’s remarkable algorithm simply tells you what you like. The more TikTok can be just an app you open and swipe, rather than an app that gives you homework, the better.
This is a tricky position, however, especially when younger users adopt the app and problematic content types become popular. It’s the same thing every social app struggles with, really: understanding how users actually interact and experience content and how to measure success beyond just views and likes. And, in reality, we still don’t know much about the health impacts of TikTok.
We’re still not getting a “Please enter me into #jardiningtok” button, and TikTok still has some questions to answer about the content it chooses to recommend, but it’s nice to see TikTok giving users a little more control over their own flows. The app has had a “Not Interested” button for some time, which you can use to stop seeing a particular user’s videos or those that use a particular sound. Adding hashtag filters is an obvious next step and is similar to what some other social platforms have done.
Word-based filters currently only look at video descriptions and text stickers. But down the road, they could conceivably be a lot more powerful: captions are a core part of TikTok, and its auto-captions are generally quite good, meaning the platform could start to understand more deeply the content of his videos simply by having their transcripts. For now, you might only be able to filter out individual words, but as machine learning and language models continue to improve, this functionality could quickly become more sophisticated. This same work will also benefit the rest of TikTok’s moderation work. The more he understands both his content and his viewers, the better he can personalize the experience. Neither is easy to understand, however.
TikTok’s new features will roll out “in the coming weeks,” the company said.