TikTok adds warnings to search results for 'distressing content'

The app is also adding additional resources in searchers related to self harm and suicide.

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Karissa Bell
September 14, 2021 8:00 AM
In this article: tiktok, news, gear, suicide, self harm
HAIKOU, HAINAN, CHINA - 2020/08/23: In this photo illustration, a TikTok logo seen displayed on a smartphone with a computer in the background.
ByteDance, parent company of popular video-sharing app TikTok on Sunday confirmed it would be filing a lawsuit on Monday local time against the Trump administration over the executive order signed by President Donald Trump banning its service in the United States. (Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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TikTok is adding new warnings to its in-app search that will alert users when results may include “distressing content.” The app has employed “sensitive content” warnings on individual videos since last year, but the updated alerts will appear in search results for terms that could include such content.

In a blog post, TikTok uses the example of “scary makeup” as a search term that may prompt such a warning. The company notes that users will be able to click through the warning to view results anyway, and that individual videos deemed “graphic or distressing” are ineligible from the app’s recommendations.

TikTok is also changing up search results to provide more resources on searches related to suicide and self harm, the company said. In addition to surfacing links to reach helplines like the Crisis text Line, the app will also point users to “content from our creators where they share their personal experiences with mental well-being, information on where to seek support and advice on how to talk to loved ones about these issues.”

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TikTok's warnings for distressing content and self harm.

The app has at times struggled to deal with content related to self harm. Last year, a video of a suicide, originally streamed to Facebook Live, went viral on TikTok as the company scrambled to take down new copies. But even as users came up with workarounds to skirt TikTok’s detection, other creators posted viral clips urging users not to engage with the content. That suggests that TikTok’s plan to rely on creators to share positive PSAs could be an effective strategy for the company.

In the U.S., the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 686868 (Canada), or 85258 (UK). TikTok has published a list of resources for other countries.

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