Displaced families in Syrian camps are begging for donations on TikTok while the company takes up to 70% of the proceeds, a BBC investigation found.
The BBC visited a Syrian camp, where it saw twelve families working with "TikTok middleman" Hamid Al-Alwa, who circulates one smartphone around the camp. Hamid told the BBC that he helps manage the families' accounts, but that the value of the gifts sent to the refugees is greatly diminished by the time the cash reaches his bank account.
Children are livestreaming on the social media app for hours, pleading for digital gifts with a cash value.
The BBC saw streams earning up to $1,000 (£900) an hour, but found the people in the camps received only a tiny fraction of that.
"If we get a lion as a gift, it's worth $500," Hamid said, referring to an animated lion that appears on a livestreamer's screen when a hefty donation is delivered. "By the time it reaches the money exchange in Al-Dana, it's only $155."
In camps in north-west Syria, the BBC found the trend was facilitated by so-called “TikTok middlemen” who provided families with the phones and equipment to go live.
The middlemen said they worked with agencies linked to TikTok in China and the Middle East, providing families with access to TikTok accounts. These agencies are part of TikTok’s global strategy to recruit live streamers and encourage users to spend more time on the app.
Because the TikTok algorithm suggests content based on the geographic origin of a user’s phone number, the intermediaries say they prefer using UK SIM cards. They say people from Britain are the most generous givers.
Mona Ali Al-Karim and her six daughters are among the families who go live on TikTok every day, sitting on the floor of their tent for hours and repeating the few English phrases they know: “Please like, please share, please give away.”
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 livestream, the balance of the Syrian test account was $33. TikTok had taken 69% of the value of the gifts.
What do you think? Wat should be a fair amount TikTok should receive? Or are they just capitalising on other people's suffering? Share your thoughts below: