Exploring TikTok’s Decision to Withhold Content Customization Feature in the UK
TikTok, the dynamic social media platform that has taken the world by storm, is causing ripples in the UK with its recent decision not to extend a content customization feature available in the European Economic Area. This move has ignited debates about user safety, content regulation, and the platform’s stance on personalized content suggestions.
TikTok’s Customization Pivot
TikTok users across 30 European Economic Area countries are on the brink of experiencing a new content landscape. By the end of this month, they will be able to opt out of personalized content recommendations based on their past behaviors. Instead, trending videos, both locally and globally, will grace their main and live feeds.
However, TikTok’s approach in the UK differs. The company confirmed that it won’t be extending this feature to its British user base. According to a TikTok representative, the customization changes for European users stem from the EU’s freshly minted Digital Services Act, which doesn’t apply to the UK. The situation, though, remains under scrutiny and assessment.
Chorus of Concerns
Critics have raised their voices against this decision, urging TikTok to consider broader accessibility to this feature. Imran Ahmed, the leader of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, pointed out that TikTok’s algorithm often surfaces content that could potentially be harmful, including videos related to self-injury and eating disorders. He stressed that TikTok should offer this content customization option to users worldwide, especially given that the functionality already exists.
TikTok’s recommendation system currently heavily relies on user tracking and profiling to curate content. This approach has propelled TikTok’s popularity, overtaking platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook among the youth in the UK. However, it hasn’t been without its share of controversies. Instances of content that goes against TikTok’s hate speech policies have been found on users’ main feeds, garnering millions of views before being taken down.
The Regulatory Landscape and Safety Measures
The EU’s Digital Services Act, enacted in November, mandates significant online platforms to provide users with an opt-out option for personalized content recommendations by the end of this month. This reflects the recognition of the substantial influence wielded by such platforms in shaping public discourse and information dissemination.
As the UK considers tightening its checks on tech companies, the forthcoming online safety bill also requires these entities to equip users with content control mechanisms. Andy Burrows, a digital child safety specialist affiliated with the Molly Rose Foundation, noted the disparity in the UK’s regulatory framework. Despite this, he called upon TikTok to offer a generic feed option in the UK, irrespective of legislative mandates. The introduction of this feature in the EU was well received, providing a safer experience for younger users.
Other tech giants, including Instagram and Facebook, will also need to align with the EU’s rules. Facebook has asserted that users can already deactivate personalized feeds, while Twitter allows toggling between customized and general feeds.
TikTok emphasized its commitment to user safety, highlighting tools like keyword filters and the “not interested” option that allow users to tailor their content experience.
A representative from the government underscored the upcoming online safety bill’s rigorous safeguards against potential online threats. The legislation takes a firm stance against companies that let algorithms guide users towards prohibited content. Non-compliance could entail significant fines.