TikTok’s Addictive Power at Stake: EU Mandates An Optional Non-AI “For You Page”

It’s been oddly quiet this summer on the “Ban TikTok” front. Too quiet.

That changed last week when the European union forced TikTok to make substantive changes.

The first requires TikTok make the algorithmically derived “For You Page” optional. Instead of an AI-derived page of videos customized to your individual preferences, many users will instead see a generic list of videos trending across Europe.

This strikes at the heart of what makes TikTok so dominant – and some would say addictive. TikTok often seems to know its users better than they know themselves – along with serving up sometimes hurtful clips that can harm mental well-being.

If your experience mirrors mine, that AI-selected stream of videos can lead to hours of obsessive viewing. It’s often hard for me to put TikTok down.

But TikTok without that customized FYP is an entirely different beast altogether. It’s like forcing Taylor Swift to sing only nursery rhymes. Fun, for sure, but probably not the obsessive fan culture we’ve seen on The Eras Tour.

Here’s what I expect to happen:

Users will likely have to opt out of the FYP, rather than explicitly enabling it. I predict less than 10% will opt out. But that’ll be enough to really test just how addictive that AI feed really is – both for adults and kids.

We’ll see half – or less – time spent per opt out user, with opt-out teens scoring significantly better on mental health metrics.

And that will lead to a middle-ground for TikTok in the US and other places contemplating a ban.

Here’s what I’d like to see.

Make the FYP opt-in, but ban it for users under 18. Extend the no ad-tracking part of the EU ban everywhere as well.

Although they probably won’t do it, if TikTok got ahead of this and made these changes without being forced, it would be a huge win. TikTok would own the narrative rather than having it pushed upon them by governments globally.

What do you think? Will the algorithmically neutered TikTok be just as addictive? Do you think the pre-emptive path I’ve laid out will defuse the TikTok ban problem for good?

And when will the other shoe drop?

Talk about it in the comments.

And check out this week’s newsletter for more on the creator economy, along with a link to the saddest page on TikTok’s corporate site.

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This Week: It’s the third week of August 2023 and here’s what you need to know.

Would TikTok Without the Algorithm Still Smell as Sweet? Looks like we are about to find out. To comply with European regulators, TikTok is about to switch off the personalized algorithm, leaving a defanged generic For You Page. It’s an option – not a requirement, but it raises some interesting questions.

  • The algorithmic FYP looks to be opt-out at first. How long until it’s opt-out for certain users?
  • As academics uncover social media’s potential to undermine well-being in teens, how long until Europe bans personalized social experiences of all sorts for under-18 users?
  • Will other platforms be forced into similar actions – and could it become a requirement to keep kids safe globally?
  • Could this become a middle ground in the US between outright ban and business as usual?
  • How will usage change when we can A/B test TikTok with and without the algorithmic FYP? I’ll bet it drops in half or more.
  • How easy will it be for kids to bypass these restrictions? Remember the early days of Musical.ly? With 13+ age gate, it was primarily used by 10-year-olds.
  • TikTok’s doing more to comply with EU regulations as well, you can read about the other changes here.

YouTube Combats Spam, Impersonation: YouTube will eliminate web links in Shorts comments, descriptions and vertical live broadcasts later this month – and just removed clickable social media icons from desktop channel banners. It’s a smart move to make Shorts safer but could impact the shopability of live vertical videos. In addition, they’ve improved impersonation detection to cut down on channels masquerading as popular YouTubers and celebrities. They also ratcheted up the strictness feature on comment moderation to clean up comments. I expect a flood of fake channels and comments as AI advances – so hopefully these tools will address that as well.

Creators Are Everywhere, Community Will Follow:  Looks like WeWork will file for bankruptcy, presumably to get out of the expensive leases it signed for office space.  WeWork was never a big creator hub, but its demise will sting.  Creating is a lonely craft, and a global one as well. I’ve seen ad-hoc creator communities popping up everywhere.  Nuseir Yassin’s Nas Summits bring creators together in far-flung places around the world (Mongolia anyone?), while efforts like Creator Camp’s new Base Camp – along with a handful of stealth community outposts – are bubbling up as well.  YouTube tried to make a go of it with its “Spaces” but wound them down during the pandemic.  Mandated and structured corporate solutions don’t work well for creators. But the more promising efforts underway will offer inclusivity, education and serendipitous collaboration without feeling forced or generic.

Zoom Tries to Pull a Fast One: Big uproar last week over Zoom’s updated terms of service. The TOS implicitly gave Zoom the right to use your meetings, webinars, calls and other sessions to train generative AI models which could put your meeting content at risk (because we all know how secure and anonymous those are). But after extensive pushback on LinkedIn and other places, Zoom pulled back. An updated TOS released on Friday walks back the changes, explicitly saying that Zoom will NOT use your meetings to train AI. You can read the original clause here. Frankly I don’t trust Zoom anymore and neither should you. I’m also very concerned that other apps, sites and services will do the same thing. Reddit can have my midnight ramblings. But I don’t want trusted creator tools, video editors or other cloud services hijacking my confidential docs, meetings or videos and stuffing them into a poorly understood LLM. Consider this a warning.


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Europe stood up, with a bold decree,

“TikTok, change your pages for all to see!”

No more algorithms cunning,

Just pure content running,

A ‘For You Page’ that’s totally free!

Thanks for reading and see you around the internet. Send me a note with your feedback, or post in the comments! Feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested, and if someone forwarded this to you, you can sign up and subscribe on LinkedIn for free here!

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