When your For You Page cycles sync
The TikTok algorithm has homogenized us.
You mean I’m not different than every other brunette who lives in Brooklyn? —Kate
“They're just videos, same as the ones served up by the algorithm on my For You Page—except they’ve been maniacally curated by my sister and my closest friends. A rag-tag team of three to six mutuals generate my Other FYP, a darker, sexier heavier-lidded version of the official FYP I’m greeted with upon opening the app. The Other FYP is the Shego to TikTok’s Kim Possible.”
Similarly, I’m in a handful of general and genre-specific group chats that, while not dedicated to sending TikToks, often involve sharing TikToks related to the thing we’re there to discuss, or simply TikToks that made us think of each other. But over the weekend, we all admitted something each of us had started noticing: For weeks now, more often than not, a TikTok that appeared in our group chat would be something at least one of us, often most of us, had already seen.
This had happened before, but never to this degree. At first, I assumed I was on TikTok way too much, and therefore more likely to consume the content before others got to it. But when I finally voiced it, I found out that TikToks I was sending had also already been seen by my friends. There was no way around it: Our For You Pages had synced.
The individualized, hyper-specific For You Pages our egos had for so long believed we were scrolling were suddenly revealed as a homogenized collection of the same popular videos. It felt weirdly like a betrayal. I’ve been turning this over in my head all weekend trying to figure out what changed.
Option one: TikTok’s algorithm. In addition to seeing the same videos of my friends, I’ve also noticed that I am getting served videos that are old. As in, I got a Christmas recipe video the other day. There’s certainly no shortage of content on TikTok, so it’s possible TikTok’s algorithm is favoring fewer videos than before. This would make the pool of FYP possibilities smaller, meaning it’s far more likely my friends and I would be stumbling across the same ones.
Option two: Our behavior. While I’d like to think that the further we get from March 2020, the less time I’m spending online, TikTok has only grown. It’s possible, despite vaccines and the country being open, that we’re using the app even more than before thanks to its ubiquity in mainstream culture. The more we consume, the more statistically likely it is we’ve seen some of the same content.
Option three: We’ve realized we’re not as sparklingly unique as we thought. Maybe, just maybe, a handful of women who live in Brooklyn and share similar interests aren’t that different in the eyes of an algorithm. The reason you send someone a TikTok is because it pertains to that person, so can you really blame a slew of computer code for figuring that out before you did?
Whatever the reason, I have to admit it feels like some of what made TikTok special is gone. I used to think of the app as a place for people to indulge in their own unique wormholes. The suspicion that we’re actually just watching the same videos quickly flipped my perception of myself using the app from “digital adventurer” to “slack-jawed, drooling test subject”—the type of person you see when you accidentally open your phone camera on selfie mode. Now what am I supposed to do—read a book?