TikTok Is Clumsily Regulating Adverts
This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, the BuzzFeed News newsletter, about how influencers are battling for your attention. Here you can sign up.
I ask you again to select users via ads
If you see more ads on your For You page on TikTok, it’s not just you. In the past few weeks I’ve also noticed more. Sometimes I can only watch two native videos before showing another ad.
TikTok has seen a rapid surge in popularity during the pandemic, so it makes sense for it to try to make money. But we see once again that a social media company apparently regulates its content after the fact. (If you recall, it took Instagram several years to regulate influencer promo disguised as organic content.)
I understand: Saying no to money is difficult. But TikTok apparently leaves some sketchy ads on its platform.
Last weekend I noticed a video that kept popping up on my FYP and being posted under various usernames that seemed to be made up of random characters. @ mnfrnti.xyz was one; @sdgfh was a different one. The commercial was immediately dubious. It featured a montage of middle-aged people with a cream that miraculously removed their puffiness under their eyes. When I say “miraculously” I mean it looked like they literally looked at the blending tool in Adobe Photoshop. I clicked the link to the TikTok video and it got more sketchy. All sorts of claims have been made about reducing wrinkles and restoring skin firmness and with several links to “Rush” a “free” trial of the cream – all you have to do is pay for shipping !!!
The most outrageous part was a fake article the ad featured from a made-up parents’ blog entitled, “$ 3 Moisturizer That Removes The Signs Of Aging Makes The Biggest Deal In Shark Cage History.”
“Shark Cage” as in the not quite / cheat Shark Tank. LOL!
The whole trick was so inferior it made me laugh, but I also couldn’t believe it had passed TikTok’s smell test. By the way, the app has an official “Ad Review Process”.
I saw the programmatic ad on my feed a few more times before reaching out to TikTok. On Wednesday, a company spokesperson announced that the ad had been removed from the app and the advertiser had been blocked. In addition, they provided this statement:
While I support their quick response to my query and pull down the ad, I wonder how “strict” their policies and verification measures are. The wrinkle removal video and the attached promotional material were hilariously deceptive. Who knows how many FYPs it got and, my god, how many people might have entered their credit card information to get the “free” trial.
I understand that automation is the way most internet companies manage ads – I mean, it is with BuzzFeed. However, for today’s proliferation of social media apps, especially TikTok, it’s even more important to put users first.
– Tanja Chen
Lauren shares her thoughts on her play on influencer politics and body image
Being an influencer means constantly being scrutinized in public, even at moments when you’d rather not. This seems to be particularly the case when the weight issue is raised.
Weight is an important topic, and this week I wrote about and shared with their audience the complex conversations that arise when influencers and celebrities decide to go on a diet or lose weight. I spoke to some amazing fat black influencers about their reactions to Lizzo’s detox diet, which she shared on Instagram, as well as Ashley Nell Tipton, a Project Runway winner who was experiencing some backlash after having had weight loss surgery.
I have to admit that I responded to it with a lot of personal feelings that I tried to brush aside in my reporting. I’m far from a true influencer, but I have a few followers here and there. I’m fat too, which is something I’m pretty comfortable with and I’ve been known to post fat positive content on social media, but this is where things get complicated. If I post a picture of myself in a bikini on Instagram, is it naturally fat-positive because I exist without shame? Does that make me a role model or spokesman? Am I part of a movement? And if I ever bow to diet culture, as we all inevitably do at one time or another, have I betrayed that movement?
I would argue that it is by default political to be fat and happy through no fault of our own because fat is still largely viewed as negative. But this is where the influencer conversation comes in.
If someone like Adele, Lizzo, or a plus-size influencer engages in diet culture in any way, they are immediately checked to see what “body positivity” is. But is that fair? Just because they exist as people who are fat and refuse to live in shame, why do we expect them to always be perfect examples of this?
One of the people I interviewed was Da’Shaun Harrison, the editor-in-chief of Wear Your Voice magazine and author of an upcoming book on where obesity and black identity meet. We talked about how people project ideas onto Lizzo even though she has never positioned herself as a fat liberationist.
“She was always just someone who was quote-un-quote ‘body positive’. And even that was very limited because so much of it was just about celebrating her own body and not letting the fact that she is a fat woman, especially a fat black woman, stop you, ”they told me. “For me the joy I get from Lizzo is seeing how she lives in her body.”
Lizzo, being a black woman, ties in with what we ask of her too, Harrison said.
“They make those of us who are fat blacks their mothers or their janitors or mules for our own politics,” they said. “They have no room to mess up or be chaotic or live outside of a politics that was even projected onto us.”
The point here is that publicly speaking about weight loss can be harmful, for both oversized people and people with eating disorders, which are often the same people. But we also need to give people space to make mistakes and find ways to talk about weight while taking harm reduction and anti-racism into account.
I don’t have a perfect solution, and all of this is made even more complex by the failure of diet culture (diets don’t work!) And intense conversations about the concept of health.
What I’ve learned from all of this is that individual choices aren’t really the problem here, but the problem of obesity and the way it invades our entire lives.
– Laura Strapagiel