A BBC investigation has found that TikTok is profiting from live streams in which Syrian refugees beg for money — with the social media giant taking up to 70 percent of donations raised by them.
According to the report, families in Syrian refugee camps engage in lengthy streams during which they can earn up to $1,000 an hour. However, these children and families only end up with a tiny fraction of the money.
Reporters from the BBC claim they followed around 30 accounts posting from Syrian refugee camps for five months and used a computer program to monitor when they received gifts.
They tracked the money sent to the accounts of Syrian refugees and found that less than a fifth of the money donated ended up in the hands of families in need. The bulk of donations was pocketed by TikTok and various middlemen that have made a business from these live streams.
In a statement to the BBC, TikTok said this type of content was not allowed on its platform and reportedly banned several dozen accounts featuring child begging following the report.
“We are deeply concerned by the information brought to us by the BBC,” says a TikTok spokesperson. “We have taken prompt and rigorous action to remove the accounts that violated our Community Guidelines, terminate our relationship with the agency in question, and write to all our LIVE agencies to remind them of their contractual agreement to adhere to our strict policies. This type of content is not allowed on our platform, and we are further expanding our global policies around exploitative begging.”
@syed_baadshah.x This literally broke my heart 🥺 look hoe fortunate we are. Please support our muslim people ❤️🏼 show them we truly care #fyp #foryou #palistine #syria #refugees #muslim #zakat #live ♬ Infinity – Jaymes Young
TikTok also told the BBC that its commission from digital gifts was significantly less than 70%. However, the company declined to confirm the exact amount.
With TikTok declining to say how much it takes from gifts, the BBC ran a further experiment to track where the money goes.
A reporter in Syria contacted one of the TikTok-affiliated agencies saying he was living in the camps. He obtained an account and went live, while BBC staff in London sent TikTok gifts worth $106 from another account.
At the end of the live stream, the balance of the Syrian test account was $33. TikTok had taken 69 percent of the value of the gifts.
Users can send live gifts on TikTok by use of virtual coins. These gifts, according to the company’s policy on virtual items, can be used to “rate or show your appreciation for an item of User Content that is uploaded or streamed by another user.” The gifts are then converted to “diamonds” in the recipient’s account, which can be swapped out for money.
“Diamonds are based on the Gifts a Content Provider receives, at a rate of conversion to be determined by us from time to time in its absolute and sole discretion,” TikTok writes on its website. It is unclear how much TikTok receives as commission upon withdrawal.