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TikTok to give researchers new API for insight, greater transparency

Trends identified by independent analysts could inform business decisions

TikTok has announced new initiatives aimed at improving transparency around the company’s data use, measurement of trends and moderation systems. 

In a blog post, chief operating officer Vanessa Pappas laid out a series of plans in detail to involve researchers, industry experts and academics to test and advise on TikTok’s platform.

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Researchers will be given access to an application programming interface (API) through which they will be able to study public and anonymised data about content on the platform. This will be made available later this year. 

The short-form video hosting service and editing app is extremely popular, with an active base of over one billion users. If research led by the data is made publicly available, insight into the trends and data analysis of TikTok’s vast dataset could prove highly valuable to the tech sector.

Businesses could benefit from knowledge of the factors that drive content to do well on the platform, as well as an understanding of how trends grow in popularity to release videos before or during them. Often, by the time businesses engage with a viral trend, much of the user interest in it has waned.

This month, Ofcom published a report stating that TikTok is the second most popular news source for teenagers with 28% using it to inform themselves, just one percent behind Instagram’s 29% of teens. 

This marks it as a vital frontier in the battle against disinformation, and the moves announced today will allow greater oversight into this ongoing issue. In the same announcement, the company pledged to publish information on covert influence operations in all further quarterly Community Guidelines Enforcement Reports.

Select researchers will be given a similar API focused on TikTok's moderation system, to probe existing content moderation systems and the current state of content on the platform. The API will also have the functionality to let researchers upload their own content, to see what is permitted, rejected, or passed on to moderators.

In addition, select independent experts will be given access to TikTok’s list of filter keywords, which it uses to identify content as harmful and asked to offer advice based on this.

Those chosen will include members of TikTok’s US Content Advisory Council, which was set up in 2020 to give industry experts a say in the company’s safety strategies and content policies. The expert members of TikTok’s regional Safety Advisory Councils, namely Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Asia Pacific, Brazil and Latin America will also be included.

“We've been listening to feedback from different communities of researchers, academics, and experts, and are today sharing new initiatives to strengthen transparency and accountability of our platform,” wrote Pappas in the post.

TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have faced harsh criticism in recent months, with FCC commissioner Brendan Carr last month urging Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their respective app stores. This was prompted by growing concerns over the security risk posed by the app's data harvesting.

IT Pro has approached TikTok for comment.

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