Power

How TikTok responds to controversy: With more educational videos

As it tries to burnish its reputation, TikTok is testing a new education section.

The TikTok app

ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, has previously reacted to negative publicity or political pressure by rolling out new, corporate social responsibility-friendly features.

Photo: Kon Karampelas/Unsplash

TikTok is trialling a new section of its app in North America that highlights educational videos, Protocol can reveal — an approach it has previously used in Asia in the wake of negative reception.

The education-focused vertical, which acts similarly to the app's main For You Page, appeared as an option on some users' phones in Canada in the middle of last week.

There appear to be at least two versions of what is provisionally called the "Learn" tab on TikTok: one is a third tab appearing at the top of the user's screen alongside the "Following" and "For You" tabs. The other, which Protocol has seen video evidence of, is a small lightbulb icon that appears on users' home screens and links to a separate page of endless scrolling videos.

The majority of the videos are tagged with the #learnontiktok or #tutorial hashtags, though they include videos on a number of topics including makeup tutorials, cooking recipes and tips for applying to jobs.

A TikTok spokesperson told Protocol: "We are constantly experimenting with new ways to bring value to the app experience."

A screenshot of the new education feature, showing the lightbulb icon in the top-left corner.Screenshot: Chris Stokel-Walker

It follows a similar push in India, where sources with knowledge of the plans of TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, tell Protocol an educational app is in development.

ByteDance has previously reacted to negative publicity or political pressure by rolling out new, corporate social responsibility-friendly features. In India, TikTok announced its #EduTok program soon after it was criticized by politicians for hosting inappropriate content. The educational vertical also echoes the introduction of a similar section on Douyin, the longer-running Chinese version of the app. A "positive energy" section, which promoted patriotic Chinese content to users, was introduced shortly after another ByteDance app, Neihan Duanzi — a sort of Reddit meets Imgur — was forced to close in 2018 by the country's central ruling authorities for hosting inappropriate material.

The same "positive energy" phrasing was also used in Indonesia, where TikTok launched an educational content campaign after it was banned temporarily in the country for broadcasting "negative content" to people under the age of 18.

Protocol has previously reported on how TikTok is using a playbook developed in Asia to crack the U.S. market.

Testing of an educational vertical comes at an interesting time in North America, coinciding with U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley sending a letter to the Federal Trade Commission claiming that "video-sharing apps like TikTok empower Chinese leadership to pry into the private affairs of Americans by hoovering up enormous amounts of information on individuals' daily lives."

But the app has been on a significant educational content drive of late in the West, announcing a $50 million Creative Learning Fund in the U.S. at the end of May, through which TikTok will partner with 800 creators and institutions to bring learning material to the app. And ByteDance is heavily invested in education more widely: it currently has contracts with over 5,000 English teachers in North America who teach on its educational apps.

"As it grows more successful internationally, we observe ByteDance experiencing something of an identity crisis," says D. Bondy Valdovinos, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology, who has studied TikTok and its Chinese counterpart, Douyin.

"To assuage concerns over its Chinese origins, the company has recently deployed a variety of responses such as moving moderation teams outside of China and appointing a new American CEO. TikTokforGood and EduTok have been excellent responses to controversy that encourages users and creators to create content that repairs ByteDance's image."

Entertainment

'The Wilds' is a must-watch guilty pleasure and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite things this week.

Illustration: Protocol

The East Coast is getting a little preview of summer this weekend. If you want to stay indoors and beat the heat, we have a few suggestions this week to keep you entertained, like a new season of Amazon Prime’s guilty-pleasure show, “The Wilds,” a new game from Horizon Worlds that’s fun for everyone and a sneak peek from Adam Mosseri into what Instagram is thinking about Web3.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Workplace

Work expands to fill the time – but only if you let it

The former Todoist productivity expert drops time-blocking tips, lofi beats playlists for concentrating and other knowledge bombs.

“I do hope the productivity space as a whole is more intentional about pushing narratives that are about life versus just work.”

Photo: Courtesy of Fadeke Adegbuyi

Fadeke Adegbuyi knows how to dole out productivity advice. When she was a marketing manager at Doist, she taught users via blogs and newsletters about how to better organize their lives. Doist, the company behind to-do-list app Todoist and messaging app Twist, has pushed remote and asynchronous work for years. Adegbuyi’s job was to translate these ideas to the masses.

“We were thinking about asynchronous communication from a work point of view, of like: What is most effective for doing ambitious and awesome work, and also, what is most advantageous for living a life that feels balanced?” Adegbuyi said.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Workplace

It's OK to cry at work

Our comfort with crying at work has changed drastically over the past couple years. But experts said the hard part is helping workers get through the underlying mental health challenges.

Tech workers and workplace mental health experts said discussing emotions at work has become less taboo over the past couple years, but we’re still a ways away from completely normalizing the conversation — and adjusting policies accordingly.

Photo: Teerasak Ainkeaw / EyeEm via Getty Images

Everyone seems to be ugly crying on the internet these days. A new Snapchat filter makes people look like they’re breaking down on television, crying at celebratory occasions or crying when it sounds like they’re laughing. But one of the ways it's been used is weirdly cathartic: the workplace.

In one video, a creator posted a video of their co-worker merely sitting at a desk, presumably giggling or smiling, but the Snapchat tool gave them a pained look on their face. The video was captioned: “When you still have two hours left of your working day.” Another video showed someone asking their co-workers if they enjoy their job. Everyone said yes, but the filter indicated otherwise.

Keep Reading Show less
Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a news writer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) and contributes to Source Code. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

Enterprise

Arm’s new CEO is planning the IPO it sought to avoid last year

Arm CEO Rene Haas told Protocol that Arm will be fine as a standalone company, as it focuses on efficient computing and giving customers a more finished product than a basic chip core design.

Rene Haas is taking Arm on a fresh trajectory.

Photo: Arm

The new path for Arm is beginning to come into focus.

Weeks after Nvidia’s $40 bid to acquire Arm from SoftBank collapsed, the appointment of Rene Haas to replace longtime chief executive Simon Segars has set the business on a fresh trajectory. Haas appears determined to shake up the company, with plans to lay off as much as 15% of the staff ahead of plans to take the company public once again by the end of March next year.

Keep Reading Show less
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a senior reporter at Protocol covering the semiconductor industry. He has worked for Barron's magazine as a Technology Reporter, and its sister site MarketWatch. He is based in San Francisco.

Latest Stories
Bulletins