TikTok USA recommends drugs, alcohol to children

Occurred: September 2021

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TikTok was found to be actively recommending drugs, alcohol, and sexual content to children as young as 13, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.

The WSJ set up a series of fake accounts to see how TikTok's algorithm worked. TikTok served one account registered as a 13-year-old at least 569 videos about drug use, references to cocaine and meth addiction, and promotional videos for online sales of drug products and paraphernalia. 

Despite their age settings, the more sexual content the teenagers viewed, the more they were given in return, with hundreds of similar videos appearing in the feeds of the Journal’s other minor accounts.

A spokesperson told the Journal that it had removed some of the reported videos, and restricted distribution of others. It also said it does not currently differentiate between content served to adults and children, but that it was working to on a new filter for younger users.  

Operator: ByteDance/TikTok
Developer: ByteDance/TikTok
Country: USA
Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts
Purpose: Recommend content
Technology: Recommendation algorithm
Issue: Safety; Accuracy/reliability
Transparency: Governance; Black box

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: September 2021