Guillaume Chaslot: Cracking the algorithm

Guillaume Chaslot gave the audience a critical view on TikTok and its algorithm. For him, “it’s going to be very hard to be a journalist on this platform” as the design of the app and its engagement based on AI make it very difficult to bring complete information to the viewer. Moreover, hesaid that “for journalists right now, it’s very hard to know what’s going on because every user has their own bubble.” Those filter bubbles can narrow a user’s content exposure, which makes it hard for journalists to reach them with information.

© Coline DAVID

TikTok’s algorithm not only suggests content you might like but monitors nearly everything you watch. The AI generates more than 70% of all views on TikTok. By doing so, the goal of the algorithm is to maximize your watching time in order to create advertisement opportunities. The longer we stay on the app, the more ad revenue it generates. “Addiction is by design!” The very design of the app and its algorithm is thought and made to create addiction, to keep you watching.

TikTok is winning on engagement. Compared to Youtube, which favors watching time by encouraging creators to make longer videos, TikTok capitalizes on shorter videos, which are easier to create. This proliferation of short videos is an opportunity for TikTok’s AI to understand you. TikTok basically reads your mind. The more videos you watch, the better it gets at discovering what you like. The average viewer watches 20 to 100 times more videos per minute on TikTok than on Youtube. This creates a very powerful AI that can be used to predict things about you.

This brings the question of data on the table. “TikTok collects tremendous amounts of data about you and your kids.” Most users don’t realize they are giving so much information about them even if they don’t create content themselves. “You don’t realize you give information just by watching.” Moreover, we don’t know what the data gathered will be used for.“TikTok is a Trojan horse.” An article published in the Guardian revealed that TikTok staff in China gets access to European users’ data. Sensitive data going to a non-democratic country is especially worrying for journalists.

TikTok is an opportunity for dictatorships. TikTok’s centralized algorithm makes it easier for dictatorships to perform well on social media. The TikTok AI controls billions of hours of watching time, its propaganda potential for dictatorships is huge. Yet, we know nearly nothing about this AI. “We need to know more. We need to learn about it to know if it’s safe. On that, we need journalists. We need investigations”, concluded Guillaume Chaslot.

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