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People love TikTok for news and money advice but TikTok doesn't love them back

Four new surveys about TikTok have dropped and they can be summed up thusly: 🙃

Survey 1: TikTok is the fastest growing news source for adults in the UK (people are suspicious of its credibility though).

Survey 2: TikTok is one of Gen Z’s most trusted sources of financial advice.

Survey 3: TikTok is annilahating our financial happiness.

It’s very 🙃, if 🙃 was the editor of a scandalous tabloid who shilled NFTs, with desk drawer full of aftermarket citalopram.

And since, according to survey 4: 40% of young adults are spending money on things they can share on TikTok instead of, you know, bills.

🙃 shading towards a dawning realisation that things have gone awry.

Two things:

  1. None of that is great and it all coalesces into a rich molasses of financial despair
  2. I really have no idea about how people are using TikTok now

Feeding the feed

When I think TikTok, I think about the For You feed. It’s a ceaseless stream of videos (and ads), gifted to you by an esoteric algorithm. I’ve poked around the app’s search and trending sections but they seemed like 90% guff to me. (I’m very much not the target audience.)

It never occurred to me that people would willingly head over to TikTok’s search and look for news or financial advice. But what do I know?

According to Prabhakar Raghavan, the senior Vice President of Google’s Knowledge & Information division, “almost 40% of young people” use TikTok and Instagram when they’re looking for things to do. It stands to reason that people would search for other things as well.

Still, a lot of it would have to be from the For You feed. If people engage with financial vids on TikTok, the app will feed them more and more. #FinTok is a beast: vids tagged with #StockTok have more than a billion views and #PersonalFinance has seen over 4 billion views.

There’s going to be some good advice in there. But for every person explaining how, say, mortgages work there’s going to be a whole lot more people pushing crypto garbage or other low-rent financial nonsense.

And then there’s all the existential pressure that contributes to people blowing money on outlandish things for the feed instead of looking after themselves.

Bad news for people who love good news

That all applies to the news, as well. The whims and pecularities of an algorithm favour the sensational more than the reasonable.

Take Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sheera Frenkel covered the situation well for the New York Times:

“What I see on TikTok is more real, more authentic than other social media,” said Ms. Hernandez, a student in Los Angeles. “I feel like I see what people there are seeing.”

But what Ms. Hernandez was actually viewing and hearing in the TikTok videos was footage of Ukrainian tanks taken from video games, as well as a soundtrack that was first uploaded to the app more than a year ago.

TikTok was flooded by videos that were “impossible to authenticate and substantiate”.

That’s partly by design. The format of TikTok – self-contained videos that bleed into one another – makes it hard to watch something, stop, take stock and consider what you’ve heard.

You just scroll to the next video. You watch enough about any given topic and you end up with a gestalt of a feeling of a vibe. You end up feeling like you’re pretty informed because you watched a lot of different things but they’re all insubstantial and you’re taking a lot on trust.

It gets back to the problem Ms. Hernandez ran into with the Ukraine videos. They felt more authentic, more real, but they were neither. The feeling was right but the facts? Not so much.

There’s a lot of good info on TikTok, sure. It’s all about who you end up seeing in your feed. But, since the default feed is a recommendation engine based things you’ve engaged with, it’s not the easiest platform to curate.

It’s about the vibe. And, based on those four new surveys, the vibe isn’t great.

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