The darkish implications of the TikTok ‘magnificence algorithm’ // The Observer
When was the last time you saw plastic surgery advertised on social media? Maybe the Instagram algorithm determined that my nose could use some work, but for me it was last night.
In case you weren’t up to date with influencers and cosmetic surgery clinics, TikTok is likely using a sophisticated beauty algorithm That gives each face in your video a numerical ranking of attractiveness. Videos with algorithmically more attractive people are advertised more heavily in the algorithm.
Since many social media algorithms are protected intellectual property, humans can usually only conduct experiments to determine what is likely to be promoted by an algorithm. After this European study On the Instagram algorithm, for example, photos in which the subject is only sparsely clad are advertised and displayed more frequently in users’ feeds. However, information is occasionally released about what social media companies are doing behind the scenes. The Intercept reported in March 2020 that this was particularly harmful internal document from TikTok instructed moderators not to promote content from viewers with “ugly expressions”. The document tells the moderators that videos of people with “abnormal body shape,” “too many wrinkles,” “obvious facial scars,” and “facial deformities (not limited to: eye disorders, crooked mouth disease, and other disabilities”) are “less attractive.” It’s worth it not to be recommended to new users. ”In addition to discriminating against posts from people with disabilities and / or faces that do not meet an algorithmically set standard of beauty in order to increase retention of new users, moderators were also instructed not to promote videos in “slums” or “rural fields” (although the document ensures that “rural beautiful natural landscapes could be excluded”) and mentions that videos were recorded in environments where “there is no obvious slummy character” but which are Have “cracks”[s] on the wall ”,“ old and notorious decorations ”or houses that are“ extremely dirty and untidy ”may not be advertised by moderators.
According to The Intercept, a representative for TikTok specified that the aim of the guidelines was to “prevent bullying” and that the guidelines “no longer existed and had not been used when The Intercept received them”. It is ironic and hard to believe that instructions from moderators who blatantly discriminated against videos of disadvantaged, disabled, or algorithmically “unattractive” people should ever prevent bullying.
This stuff has always been on social media. And I mean from the start: FacemashMark Zuckerberg’s creation before Facebook was a website that allowed users to compete against college women based on their facial attractiveness. But the relationship between plastic surgery, skewed beauty norms, and TikTok is unlike anything we’ve seen before. insider conducted an experiment to determine how long it took a new TikTok user – whose profile was set at 14 – to see a plastic surgery (especially rhinoplasty) promotional video on their For You page. The answer? Just eight minutes of scrolling.
However, one doesn’t have to experiment to find out that cosmetic surgeons tailor their marketing to the TikTok algorithm – they will tell you themselves. An article, is aimed at plastic surgeons and gives advice for the effective marketing of cosmetic surgery on TikTok to “younger target groups”. Another article from Rival Cosmetic Surgery in Toronto divides the TikTok algorithm for “appearance” and beauty into three categories: “nose width”, “forehead slope” and “smoothness and health of the skin”.
“If TikTok recognizes beauty, it is more likely that the video will be shown to more viewers, ”the article reads. This means it will be seen by more people and have a greater chance of getting more followers and interactions. ”
The article ends with a haunting “If you’re considering plastic surgery or other cosmetic treatments to grow your fan base (or just for yourself!), Make an appointment in Toronto with Rival Cosmetic Surgery. ”
Are You Considering Plastic Surgery … To Grow Your Fan Base? The implication that one could undergo plastic surgery alone is thrown into the sentence like an afterthought, perhaps to protect the provider from criticism. One of the many problems with such messages is the disproportionate impact on how people of color, especially women of color, see themselves. Because of the history of colonial beauty standards imposed on non-white, non-European women, there are racially problematic implications for example, to algorithmically promote a thin, short, upturned nose as the “ideal” nose.
My problem is not with the individual user: Research shows that even newborns stare at attractive faces for a long time and show preferences for “conventionally attractive” faces from a few hours old. But I have problems with the technology that pre-screen the faces you see so that when you go online you will only see faces of a certain type of beauty.
There is nothing wrong with cosmetic surgery in and of itself. But more than ever, it is important to know how social media affects our propensity for cosmetic surgery. The promotion of plastic surgery and “ideal” faces through algorithms like TikTok’s hunt for our insecurities and transforms our natural human differences into so-called “imperfections”. Maybe my point of view is radical, but I believe that beauty and trends can be viewed separately. You are not a puff-shoulder sweater or square shoe: Your uniquely beautiful facial features, which are given to you by every generation of ancestors, are not up to date.
Renee Yaseen is a junior majoring in Economics and Minors in Theology and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PSA) program. In her free time, she writes poetry, hangs out with loved ones and works on her software startup. She can be reached by chatting on a shared Google Doc at 3am, on Twitter @ReneeYaseen, or by email at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the observer.