Whistleblower: TikTok received $4.3 million for weight loss ads
Users have been alerted that social media giant TikTok has received millions for diet culture ads on the platform, according to the whistleblower.
The video-sharing platform has reportedly accepted $4.3 million from the so-called wellness company Kilo Group, Media Matters reports.
The ads penned by the Lithuanian-based group apparently promoted weight loss goals often unattainable by its two largest subsidiaries, Beyond Body and ColonBroom, which allegedly promised consumers quick weight loss solutions, such as flat tummy and total body transformations, according to watchdog. .
Data from Pathmatics said TikTok spent $4.3 million between November 1, 2022 and January 7, 2023, Media Matters reported, which comes years after the app adjusted its advertising guidelines.
In 2020, TikTok restricted advertising campaigns to dieting and weight loss, stating that content cannot “promise that a product alone, without diet or exercise can lead to weight loss or weight gain” nor can it over-perform. product or guarantees some results. The company has also banned content that exploits users’ “insecurities to conform to certain ideals or beauty standards.”
“We are introducing new advertising policies that ban ads for fasting apps and weight-loss supplements and increase restrictions on ads that promote a harmful or negative body image,” said Tara Wadhwa, director of safety policy at TikTok, in a 2020 statement.
“These types of ads do not support the positive, inclusive, and safe experience we strive for on TikTok,” she added.
The Post has reached out to TikTok and the Kilo Group for comment.
Body positivity advocate and TikTokker Nikki Garza told The Post that she doesn’t believe any social media platform can be a “safe space of diet culture,” given its pervasiveness in society.
“These platforms are here for the money,” the Atlanta-based creator said candidly.
“I have little or no faith on any platform that sticks out of any kind [of safe space] They promised to keep their creators safe from any kind of sinister thing like diet culture,” the 28-year-old added, saying consumers should adjust what they see on their feeds.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone has our best interests at heart, unfortunately.”
Colonprom, a powder containing psyllium husks, promotes their product as the end to all bloated belly woes. On the website’s homepage, the company claims users’ panties will be “too tight and nothing more,” and boasts of the powder as “a new and effective way to relieve constipation, lose weight, and cleanse your body.”
But psyllium husk powder — while great for the digestive system — isn’t exactly a major player in weight loss. While it can make consumers feel full, a 2020 study found that the ingredient alone did not significantly reduce body weight or BMI.
Meanwhile, Beyond Body, a personal diet book, promises weight loss with step-by-step instructions. While they claim to improve the consumer’s relationship with food and themselves, their content is riddled with jargon and negative ideology about the body.
In addition to the brand’s blog demonizing dieters’ weight loss “failure” and seemingly offering the ultimate solution, their ads aren’t any better.
According to screenshots from their TikTok ads by Media Matters, people in the clips complain about not having a “flat” stomach, while others promise a complete body transformation in as little as 28 days.
While the diet products aren’t the first—and they won’t be the last in the $72.6 billion weight loss market—they are eerily reminiscent of the days of Flat-Belly tea. Detox teas and appetite-suppressing lollipops have grown in popularity by the likes of Kim Kardashian and her sisters in the past decade as social media users have faced the onslaught of celebrity-backed health fads.
After experts denounced the hype as bull, Instagram targeted the fake ads in a modified policy, namely by restricting posts promoting diet cures. Per the app’s advertising guidelines, weight loss content is not available to users under the age of 18, and its filtering feature allows Grammers to block any diet talk.
TikTok’s barrage of diet ads comes shortly after a University of Vermont study claimed the platform “glorifies” weight loss.
Study leader Dr. Lizzie Pope, assistant professor in the university’s department of nutrition and food sciences, told The Post in November that the amount of content promoting weight loss or ideals was “widespread.” She added that the content analyzed made weight loss appear “easy” and promised quick ways to lose weight.
“There was a lot of subliminal messaging about what bodies and foods should look like to fit the thin model,” she said. “A lot of the videos talk about trying to achieve a certain body shape that is implied or definitely skinny.”
While a search for “thinspo” on TikTok directs users to eating disorder resources, the hashtag “#weightloss” takes users to a page filled with clips of users promoting before and after bodies. The hashtag has 74.5 million views as body-scanning videos reign supreme on the platform.
The Media Matters report is the latest in a series of criticisms against the social media giant, which has been criticized for being “obesephobic” and favoring thinness before.
The app’s improved guidelines in 2020 came a few months after The Intercept reported that the social media platform was censoring users with features they deemed “ugly.”
At the time, internal guidelines recommended that video reviewers flag clips featuring TikTokers who looked “fat” and “obese,” or those with “a lot of wrinkles” and “facial deformities.”
Content creators who described themselves as people with larger bodies claimed that their videos were unfairly removed by the moderators of the app. Users said the platform cited violations of its Community Guidelines as the reason their clips were flagged, even though there were no clear violations.
TikTokers suspected that because of their larger bodies, there is more “surface area” for skin, and so the AI might detect nudity or sexual content, even though there isn’t any. On the other hand, their smaller counterparts can happily flaunt their flabby bodies in a bikini without any problem, causing outrage among the body positive community.
“Plus-size people are bigger, so there’s more skin showing, but that’s just because we’re bigger,” Garza previously told The Post in 2020.
Despite TikTok adjusting its guidelines and restricting content related to diet culture, the Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be aware of spam dieting online, saying many are “simply too good to be true.”
“Body wraps, topical creams, nutritional supplements, pills, powders, skin patches, and even earrings have been advertised to quickly ‘dissolve’, ‘flush’, ‘burn’ or ‘dissolve’ unwanted fat,” the warning page reads. Adding that ads are usually used before and after shots to convince people that they work.
They continued, “The sad truth is that advertising is misleading, and that the products won’t melt fat or give you a six-pack.” “In fact, many contain ingredients that can harm your health.”
Media Matters’ claims about TikTok come as the platform faces scrutiny amid security concerns.
The app’s CEO, Xu Ziqiu, is set to testify before Congress later this year, as government officials bring forward bills to ban the app. The news comes as many universities are banning the use of the platform on their campuses.