TikTok is starting to offer users a new level of control over their For You page. The company announced today that you can specify specific words or hashtags you don’t want to see in your feeds, and the app will filter them out automatically. TikTok’s examples are pretty simple — like when you’ve completed a reno and don’t want to see any more DIY videos or decide you don’t want to see cooking tutorials with a certain type of food or meat. But these kinds of filters can be used to monitor your feed much more carefully.
The platform also introduces two new automated moderation and filtering tools. One, called content levels, ranks content by “thematic maturity” and is designed to prevent all types of mature content from being shown to young users. (TikTok compared it to the rating systems you’d find in movies or video games.) The other attempts to identify videos that are okay one by one, but problematic in bulk — diet fads, depression-related content, and the like — and avoid them repeatedly show to users. TikTok has been working on this for a while and is ready to roll it out.
These kinds of automatic tools are TikTok’s bread and butter, and the platform has mostly resisted giving fine-grained tools for controlling the content they see (or not). Even the layout of the app shows its priorities: you can certainly swipe to the next feed, but the For You page is where TikTok’s remarkable algorithm just tells you what you like. The more TikTok can just be an app that you open and swipe, rather than an app that gives you homework, the better.
However, that’s a tricky position, especially as younger users are using the app and problematic types of content are becoming popular. This is basically the same thing every social app struggles with: understanding how users actually interact with and experience content and how to measure success beyond simple views and likes. And in reality, we still don’t know much about the health effects of TikTok.
We’re still not getting a “please give me in #gardeningtok” button and TikTok still has questions to answer about the content it recommends, but it’s nice to see TikTok giving users a little more control over their own feeds. The app has had a “Not Interested” button for a while, which you can use to stop seeing videos from a particular user or videos that use a particular sound. Adding the hashtag filters is an obvious next step and is similar to what some other social platforms have done.
The word-based filters currently only look at video descriptions and text-based stickers. But later, in theory, they could be a lot more powerful: captioning is a core part of TikTok, and the automatic captioning is usually pretty good, meaning the platform could better understand the content of its videos just by their transcriptions. For now, you may only be able to filter out individual words, but as machine learning and language models continue to improve, that feature could quickly become more sophisticated. That same work will also benefit the rest of TikTok’s moderation work. The more it understands both the content and the viewers, the better it can tailor the experience. However, neither is easy to figure out.
TikTok’s new features will be rolled out “in the coming weeks,” the company said.