In this week’s episode of niche online drama, social media users are coming for TikTok’s search bar and keyword function – questioning its accuracy, utility and reliability.
Found at the top of videos and throughout comment sections, many of us are aware of TikTok’s automated search bar feature at this point. But for those unfamiliar, TikTok has started rolling out a new function that offers context for video content by identifying keywords in the comments, captions and text. These keywords, hyperlinked with a small blue magnifying class, allow users to explore related videos in specifically-curated discovery pages. And as Gen Zs continue to use TikTok as a search engine, introducing these types of functions is making the short-form video app more powerful than ever.
While some TikTok users are enjoying this new way to find content, many have found fault with this feature. And this past week, fans of TikTok creator Elyse Myers have started vocalising their concerns.
Elyse, who boasts over 6.3 million followers, has become one of the most popular content creators on the app. She initially went viral after telling a disastrous first date story, in which she ended up having to pay for 100 hard-shell tacos (Yes, it is as insane as it sounds).
With this video amassing over 23 million views, Elyse has carved a lane for herself on the app. Now, the 29-year-old is known for sharing those cringy moments and opening up about dealing with mental health issues like anxiety, ADHD and depression.
At the end of February, Elyse took to the platform to share that she is expecting her second child in a pregnancy announcement fashioned after “The Office.” While viewers were quick to flood her comment section with support, well-wishes and excitement, the TikTok search function soon turned things sinister.
About one week later, on March 6, TikTok user @_jen_hamilton_ posted a seemingly unrelated video to Elyse’s pregnancy announcement. The TikTok shows Jen sitting in her car on the edge of tears after a day on the job as a nurse.
While Jen didn’t share exactly why she was upset, TikTok’s automated search bar function under the video read, “Elyse Myers Pregnancy Loss.” Viewers were immediately concerned and confused, with many worried that Elyse had a miscarriage.
Jen soon took to TikTok to clarify her original video, noting that it had nothing to do with Elyse’s pregnancy.
“I am a labour and delivery nurse, and that was after the worst shift of my life, and unfortunately, someone got pulled into it and had nothing to do with it”, she begins. “This app now has people thinking that Elyse Myers has lost her baby, and that is because, on my video in the suggested search, it said ‘Elyse Myers pregnancy loss’… how does that happen?”
Upon Jen’s clarification, many social media users have called on TikTok to do better and adjust how these keywords are decided. One TikTok user, @garbagegirl_, made a video noting how the automated search bar often starts rumours about creators. That said, this function becomes especially harmful when dealing with videos covering sensitive matters like pregnancy.
“The search bar literally starts rumours about people… this is like too far,” she says. “This mum [Elyse] is going to see this, like anyone that has experienced a loss or infertility or anything… knows how being pregnant is sometimes just traumatising and scary… If I was a large creator and this rumour was being spread around by a TikTok search bar, I can’t imagine the anxiety I would feel.”
Unfortunately, Elyse isn’t even the first influencer to have had the automated search bar spread false narratives about her personal life – and she probably won’t be the last.
Over the past year, TikTok creators like Anna Paul and Eden Harvey have come forward to explain the keywords allocated to their videos, attempting to quell the spread of rumours. Anna, for instance, posted a video after the search bar said, “anna paul being rude to fans.”
“There was a nice TikTok about me, and then the search suggestion is ‘Anna Paul being rude to fans,’ I was so confused,” Anna explains. “I have never been rude to a fan in my life; I’ve never said no to a photo with anyone in my life.”
There is no denying that misinformation is a concerning part of today’s social media landscape, and the problems with TikTok’s search function remind us just how quickly these false narratives can spread. As TikTok continues to adjust and expand its search capabilities, we must remember to constantly question the stories and information we come across – even if the app’s all-powerful algorithm recommends it.