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."


How I decided to leave the US and pursue a tech career in Europe

Melissa Di Donato moved to Europe to broaden her technology experience with a different market perspective. She planned to stay two years. Seventeen years later, she remains in London as CEO of Suse.

“It was a hard go for me in the beginning. I was entering inside of a company that had been very traditional in a sense.”

Photo: Suse

Click banner image for more How I decided seriesA native New Yorker, Melissa Di Donato made a life-changing decision back in 2005 when she packed up for Europe to further her career in technology. Then with IBM, she made London her new home base.

Today, Di Donato is CEO of Germany’s Suse, now a 30-year-old, open-source enterprise software company that specializes in Linux operating systems, container management, storage, and edge computing. As the company’s first female leader, she has led Suse through the coronavirus pandemic, a 2021 IPO on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and the acquisitions of Kubernetes management startup Rancher Labs and container security company NeuVector.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

UiPath had a rocky few years. Rob Enslin wants to turn it around.

Protocol caught up with Enslin, named earlier this year as UiPath’s co-CEO, to discuss why he left Google Cloud, the untapped potential of robotic-process automation, and how he plans to lead alongside founder Daniel Dines.

Rob Enslin, UiPath's co-CEO, chats with Protocol about the company's future.

Photo: UiPath

UiPath has had a shaky history.

The company, which helps companies automate business processes, went public in 2021 at a valuation of more than $30 billion, but now the company’s market capitalization is only around $7 billion. To add insult to injury, UiPath laid off 5% of its staff in June and then lowered its full-year guidance for fiscal year 2023 just months later, tanking its stock by 15%.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software. Formerly, she was a management consultant for EY. She's based in Los Angeles and can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.


Figma CPO: We can do more with Adobe

Yuhki Yamashita thinks Figma might tackle video or 3D objects someday.

Figman CPO Yuhki Yamashita told Protocol about Adobe's acquisition of the company.

Photo: Figma

Figma CPO Yuhki Yamashita’s first design gig was at The Harvard Crimson, waiting for writers to file their stories so he could lay them out in Adobe InDesign. Given his interest in computer science, pursuing UX design became the clear move. He worked on Outlook at Microsoft, YouTube at Google, and user experience at Uber, where he was a very early user of Figma. In 2019, he became a VP of product at Figma; this past June, he became CPO.

“Design has been really near and dear to my heart, which is why when this opportunity came along to join Figma and rethink design, it was such an obvious opportunity,” Yamashita 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.


Microsoft lays out its climate advocacy goals

The tech giant has staked out exactly what kind of policies it will support to decarbonize the world and clean up the grid.

Microsoft published two briefs explaining what new climate policies it will advocate for.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

The tech industry has no shortage of climate goals, but they’ll be very hard to achieve without the help of sound public policy.

Microsoft published two new briefs on Sept. 22 explaining what policies it will advocate for in the realm of reducing carbon and cleaning up the grid. With policymakers in the U.S. and around the world beginning to weigh more stringent climate policies (or in the U.S.’s case, any serious climate policies at all), the briefs will offer a measuring stick for whether Microsoft is living up to its ideals.

Keep Reading Show less
Brian Kahn

Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol's climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil's influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.

Latest Stories