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News / Inês Ferreira / 14 Feb 2023

TikTok Heating Button: Choosing what goes viral

3 minute read

TikTok is making headlines again for confirming employees’ use of a “heating” button which automatically boosts videos in the app.

TikTok is currently a central topic of discussion in the music industry, mainly because it can kick off or boost artists’ careers and serve as an important marketing tool. The short-form video platform has played a crucial role in boosting the careers of artists like Doja Cat, Jack Harlow, or Beach Bunny, which today have thriving music careers and multi-million-dollar deals with fashion and food brands, for example.  

With great power comes great responsibility, or not really. As reported recently by Forbes, some TikTok employees within the U.S. can boost videos on the app by simply clicking a “heating” button. This way videos not reaching audiences are given algorithmic measures that mean they go viral with potentially great benefits for their creators. 

As Jamie Favazza, TikTok’s spokesperson, told Forbes, “only a few people, based in the U.S., have the ability to approve content for promotion in the U.S., and that content makes up approximately .002% of videos in For You feeds”. However, this value might not be accurate given that Forbes put its hands on the “MINT Heating Playbook”, an internal TikTok document stating that employees’ boosted videos can make up to 1 or 2% of daily video views.  

Regardless of the share of views these videos can have, the disconcerting factor is the breach in TikTok’s credibility, which has always maintained that its video suggestions in the For You Page result from its unique algorithm usage. Perhaps  this comes as no surprise, since much has been rumoured in the past that TikTok was partnering with big companies in the music industry to promote their brands and musicians.  

After TikTok confirmed that such behind-the-scenes actions are taking place, the app explained that it aims to “help diversify the content experience”, and strengthen relationships with creators and businesses.

As Search Engine Journal reports, employee content manipulation in social media platforms is quite prevalent and “more common than platforms let on”, often leading to misuse. According to The Verge, Forbes reported that there have already been incidents of TikTok employees boosting content “from friends, partners, and even their own accounts”.  

Even though some U.S. employees conducted this behaviour, nothing was disclosed about what practices led by its Chinese counterparts since that could open space for people to question whether or not they were boosting Chinese Government propaganda. 

The platform’s confirmation comes as YouTube launches its new monetisation program for the first time for YouTube Shorts, rewarding creators with ad revenue depending on the number of views they have and the requirements they reach, in an apparent effort to cut TikTok’s appeal to Gen Z users. Amid all this, TikTok has also been under fire for removing major label music from the app of some users in Australia to gauge licensed music’s importance and better inform the next round of licensing negotiations with record label companies.    

Only time will tell how the platform moves on, and how its relationship with record labels, publishers and other music rightsholders will evolve.

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