TikTok has confirmed to Forbes that some of its US employees have the ability to boost videos in order to “introduce celebrities and emerging creators to the TikTok community.” The statement comes as part of a report about TikTok’s “Heating” button, which Forbes says can be used to put selected videos onto users’ For You pages, helping boost views by sidestepping the algorithm that supposedly drives the TikTok experience.
Jamie Favazza, a spokesperson for TikTok, told Forbes that increasing views to particular videos isn’t the only reason for heating. TikTok will also “promote some videos to help diversify the content experience” (read: make sure your feed isn’t entirely made up of one or two trends), he said. Favazza also suggests TikTok doesn’t do it that often, claiming only “.002% of videos in For You feeds” are heated. According to an internal document obtained by Forbes, however, heated videos reportedly make up “around 1-2 percent” of “total daily video views.”
Heated videos don’t come with a label to show that they’ve been boosted by TikTok like ads or sponsored posts do, according to the report. Instead, they appear like any other videos that the algorithm would’ve selected for you.
The news isn’t necessarily a surprise. There have been reports for years that TikTok used promises of promoted content to convince politicians and businesses to use its platform, and companies, especially in the music industry, have made no secret of using the platform to promote their brands.
TikTok would also be far from the only social media company to boost videos unnaturally. Facebook allegedly knew it was showing inflated view counts and didn’t fix it right away to help entice advertisers and media companies to its platform. (It ended up paying $40 million to settle a lawsuit over the issue.) While that’s not exactly the same scenario — TikTok videos do actually seem to get genuine views, even if they’re not going viral organically — the effect could be similar; people end up thinking that they’ll do better on TikTok than they actually will.
It also means that TikTok is picking winners and losers: creators and brands may lose a spot on someone’s For You page to someone that has a tighter relationship with the company. According to Forbes, there have been incidents where employees heated content they shouldn’t have, promoting videos from friends, partners, and even their own accounts.
Creators might also lose interest in the platform if their videos underperform compared to ones that are being boosted, as TikTok’s lack of transparency around heating makes it hard to tell which videos got to the top organically.
The report comes as TikTok is facing heavy competition from platforms like YouTube, which has recently started enticing creators by giving them a cut of ad revenue made off Shorts, and Instagram’s push to pay creators for Reels (though the latter admitted on Friday that it’s recently been pushing video too hard). Meanwhile, TikTok has a selective creators fund and a very limited ad-sharing model, which could give its competitors a leg up.