In the two years since TikTok’s suggested search bar recommendations made their debut, there’s been plenty of drama. By April 2023, for instance, numerous celebrities like Ariana Grande and Bebe Rexha were at the receiving end of SEO-driven body shaming with “bebe rexha weight” and “ariana grande weight then and now” appearing below TikTok videos.
From then on, onlookers hoped the platform would start to clean up its act — but a new report from Business Insider suggests otherwise.
Over the past few months, TikTok creators have reported further inappropriate search recommendations appearing below their videos.
“We have no control over what [TikTok’s search bar] says or how the keywords are chosen, which is so strange,” creator Joel Bervell told Business Insider. “It happens all the time, and we’re not really able to see what the search bar says unless you go in from another account.”
“TikTok’s search bar is out to ruin lives,” creator Niya Esperanza said in a recent video, noting how the search bar kept pairing her with people who had “nothing to do with [her].”
Unsurprisingly, as confirmed by a TikTok spokesperson, the search bar isn’t actually determined by a singular chaotic and messy intern. It’s determined instead by an algorithm, with artificial intelligence (Why does it always come back to AI?) being used to identify conversations around videos.
The result is a search system that broadly correlates with users’ search interests and conversations, but like any robot, this system is far from perfect.
The spokesperson was also eager to note that there are things creators can do, like flagging unusual results to TikTok or banning certain words and phrases from their comment section entirely. But the situation creators are in now implies that these measures aren’t actually enough.
Recent data from Adobe Express suggests that over 2 in 5 Americans use TikTok as a search engine, while nearly 1 in 10 Gen Zers reported that they were more likely to rely on TikTok than Google as a search engine.
So, despite the misinformation the search bar is spreading, we don’t see TikTok slowing down any time soon.