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The Echo

The student news site of St. Louis Park High School

The Echo

The student news site of St. Louis Park High School

The Echo

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Tiktok’s search engine is frightening

You open Tiktok. You should be doing homework, but it’s fine, you’ll only be a minute. You scroll, and the first thing you see is Tana Mongeau telling you Panera’s Charged Lemonade “f*cking killed someone.” Shocked and craving answers, you consider Googling, until you see a handy magnifying glass below the video — next to it, “charged lemonade death.” You click, and a wall of videos appear. Pop news clips, comedian’s reactions and old drink reviews, everything you want to know is right in front of you, and you didn’t even leave the app. 

This is how Tiktok’s search engine works, and it’s as scary as it sounds — in the past, if you saw something you didn’t know about, you might research it on your own or simply scroll. Now, endless information — and misinformation — exists in-app, only a click away. To better understand, let’s scroll again. 

This time, you see a clip of your celebrity crush — it’s cut from a promo interview for a project they’re doing, but you can’t tell what it is. Not to worry, you have the search suggestion feature. The algorithm gives you commonly searched phrases from viewers of that video, using the collective knowledge of users to streamline the delivery of information. Once you click the search bar, videos on that subject will start to show up on your For You Page quicker than they would otherwise. This algorithm shortcut allows you to see your celeb’s new project, fan edits and their personal drama without you having to seek it out. 

This may make the app better tailored to your interests, but it comes at a cost — your time. The search engine feature exists to make you spend more time on the app, and it’s scary good at it. You help the algorithm funnel your feed without even realizing it, keeping you on the app for longer. What’s more, it carries frightening connotations for how we access information. 

When you search something on Tiktok, you’re only shown the most popular videos on a subject. This can mean the most reactionary, clickbait content rises to the top. This leads to the spread of misinformation. Think back to the Charged Lemonade — a quick google will tell you that the death was caused by a pre-existing condition, but that’s not what you see when you search on Tiktok, because fear mongering and sensationalist videos will always do better than straight-forward, boring clarifications. 

The difference in the form of information on Tiktok compared to regular browsers is an important one. Trade questions about caffeinated lemonade for questions about geopolitics or climate science — complex issues that require complex answers. It’s impossible to form educated opinions about these topics from minute-long videos, especially when there’s considerable incentive for creators to chop information into convenient, bite-size pieces. 

It gets worse — the videos Tiktok shows are tailored to your feed, making it near-impossible to see alternate viewpoints to your own. Once you search a phrase and like a video leaning towards one side of an issue, your feed will show you videos that support that side, sending users down a pipeline that continually forms and confirms their beliefs. 


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About the Contributor
Sarah Kluckhohn, Design Editor
Hiii! My name is Sarah and I’m the creative director of Echo this semester. This is my third year on staff and I am so excited to continue sharing my unwarranted opinion with the student body. I am a committed single mother to my cat and in my free time I love to read, bake, and listen to music. If you can’t find me, I’m probably somewhere outside with my headphones in. Ask me about Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan, or Elliot Smith. 

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