TikTok will explain why it recommends videos on its 'For You' page

It’s a step toward algorithmic transparency for the app, which has been viewed with suspicion.


The algorithm that powers TikTok’s “For You” page has long been a source of fascination and suspicion. Fans often remark on the app’s eerie accuracy, while TikTok critics have at times speculated the company could subtly manipulate its algorithm to influence its users in more nefarious ways.

Now, the company is taking new steps to demystify some aspects of its algorithm. The app is introducing a feature that will “help people understand why a particular video has been recommended to them.” With the update, users will be able to tap on a new question mark icon, which will list some factors that played a role in the recommendation.

In a blog post, the company notes that its “recommendation system is powered by technical models” and the feature is meant to make “technical details more easily understandable.” For now, that also means the details shared sound a bit vague. For example, “this video is popular in the United States,” and “you are following Hanna” are two of the explanations provided by Tiktok. Other explanations may be based on “user interactions, such as content you watch, like or share, comments you post, or searches.”

The company says it plans to add “more granularity and transparency” to the feature over time, though, so the explanations could eventually get more detailed. A TikTok spokesperson said that future versions may also incorporate other factors that influence the app's algorithm, like an individual’s account settings.

While the feature will likely not do much to assuage critics who think TikTok, or parent company ByteDance, uses the algorithm to manipulate users, it could help make its recommendations a bit more understandable to its users. And the change is part of a broader move from TikTok to prove it's willing to be more transparent about the inner workings of its app. The company has also partnered with Oracle to conduct a review of its algorithms and content moderation system.