TikTok violated policy by receiving $4.3M for weight loss ads: whistleblowers

Users are ticked off that the social media giant TikTok allegedly received millions in exchange for diet culture ads on the platform, according to whistleblowers.

The video-sharing platform reportedly accepted $4.3 million from the so-called wellness company Kilo Group, reports Media Matters.

Adverts crafted by the Lithuanian conglomerate seemingly promoted unattainable weight loss goals mostly by way of its two largest subsidiaries, Beyond Body and ColonBroom, which allegedly promised consumers quick weight loss solutions, such as a flat tummy and total body transformations, according to watchdogs.

Data from Pathmatics said that TikTok spent $4.3 million between Nov. 1, 2022, and Jan. 7, 2023, Media Matters reported, which comes years after the app modified its advertising guidelines.

In 2020, TikTok restricted ad campaigns for dieting and weight loss, stating that the content could not “promise that the product alone, without diet or exercise can lead to weight loss or gain,” nor could it exaggerate the performance of the product or guarantee certain results. The company also banned content that takes advantage of users’ “insecurities to conform to certain beauty ideals or standards.”

“We’re introducing new ad policies that ban ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements and increase restrictions on ads that promote a harmful or negative body image,” Tara Wadhwa, safety policy manager for TikTok, said 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 Kilo Group for comment.

Critics have previously slammed the app for promoting thin creators while exiling others.
Getty Images

Body positive advocate and TikToker Nikki Garza told The Post she doesn’t believe any social media platform can be a “safe space from diet culture,” due to its prevalence in society.

“These platforms are here for money,” the Atlanta creator said frankly.

“I have little to no faith on any platform sticking to any kind [of safe space] they promise to keep their creators safe from any kind of ominous things such as diet culture,” the 28-year-old added, saying it’s on consumers to moderate what they see on their feeds.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone has our best interests at heart, unfortunately.”

TikTok statement
In 2020, TikTok vowed to better honor its body-positive users and creators on the platform by modifying their guidelines.

ColonBroom, a powder that contains psyllium husk, touts its product as the end-all-be-all to bloated tummy woes. On the website’s home page, the company claims users’ pants will be “too tight no more,” boasting the powder as the “new and effective way to relieve constipation, lose weight and cleanse your body.”

But psyllium husk powder — while great for the digestive tract — isn’t exactly a key player in weight loss. While it can make consumers feel more full, a 2020 study found that the ingredient alone did not significantly reduce body weight or body mass index.

Meanwhile, Beyond Body, a personalized diet book, promises weight loss with the use of step-by-step instructions. While it claims to improve the consumer’s relationship with food and themselves, its content is riddled with negative body image terms and ideology.

In addition to the brand’s blog demonizing dieters’ weight loss “fails” and providing the seemingly ultimate solution, their advertisements are no better.

According to screenshots of their TikTok adverts by Media Matters, people in the clips complain of not having a “flat” stomach, while others promise a total body transformation in as little as 28 days.

ColonBroom ad
ColonBroom, one of the subsidiaries of Kilo Group, touts the brand’s powder as the way to achieve “body goals.”

While the dieting products are not the first of their kind – and won’t be the last as far as the $72.6 billion weight loss market is concerned – they are eerily reminiscent of the Flat Tummy Tea days. Touted by the likes of Kim Kardashian and her sisters, detox teas and appetite-suppressing lollipops grew in popularity in the last decade as social media users faced an onslaught of celebrity-backed wellness fads.

After experts denounced the buzz as bull, Instagram targeted the bogus ads in an amended policy, namely by restricting posts that promote the diet remedies. According to the app’s advertising guidelines, weight loss content isn’t available to users under the age of 18, and its filter feature allows ‘Grammers to block out any diet talk.

Beyond Body
Garza said she doesn’t have faith in any platform – let alone TikTok – to keep users’ best interests in mind.

The barrage of TikTok dieting adverts comes shortly after a University of Vermont study claimed the platform “glorifies” weight loss.

Study leader Dr. Lizzy Pope, an associate professor in the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the university, told The Post in November that the amount of content promoting weight loss or thin ideals was “pervasive.” The analyzed content, she added, made weight loss look “easy,” promising quick ways to drop pounds.

“There was a lot of subliminal messaging around what bodies and foods should look like to kind of match up to the thin ideal,” she said. “So many of the videos talked about trying to achieve a particular body shape that was implied, or just definitely, thin.”

TikTok ad for ColonBroom
While it’s clear some of ColonBroom’s boasters lead an active lifestyle, they tout the powder as one of the key components of their physique.

While the search for “thinspo” on TikTok directs users to eating disorder resources, the hashtag “#weightloss” takes users to a page overwhelmed with clips of users touting before and after bodies. The hashtag has 74.5 million views as body-checking videos prevail on the platform.

The Media Matters report is the latest in a slew of criticism against the social media giant, which has been slammed for being “fatphobic” 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 as “ugly.”

At the time, internal guidelines recommended that video auditors flag clips featuring TikTokers who appeared to be “chubby” and “obese,” or those who had “too many wrinkles” and “facial deformities.”

Content creators who described themselves as people with bigger bodies claimed their videos were unfairly removed by the app’s moderators. The users said the platform cited community guidelines violations as the reason their clips were flagged, despite the lack of visible violations.

Girl making a TikTok
Experts have claimed the platform “glorifies” weight loss, which they deem as potentially dangerous.
Getty Images

TikTokers suspected that due to their larger bodies, there is more skin “surface area,” and therefore the AI might be detecting nudity or sexual content, despite there being none. Their smaller counterparts, on other hand, could happily flaunt their thin bodies in a bikini with no problem, igniting fury amongst the body positivity community.

“Plus-size folks are larger, so there’s more skin showing, but that’s just because we are bigger,” Garza previously told The Post in 2020. “It’s not that we’re showing anything more sexual.”

Beyond Body ad
Beyond Body touts their 28-day fitness and health plan as a sure way to lose weight.

Despite TikTok modifying its guidelines and restricting content about diet culture, the Better Business Bureau warns consumers to beware of dieting shams online, saying that many are “simply too good to be true.”

“Body wraps, topical creams, dietary supplements, pills, powders, skin patches and even earrings have been advertised to ‘melt, ‘flush,’ ‘burn’ or ‘dissolve’ away unwanted fat fast,” their warning page reads, adding that the ads typically use before and after snaps to convince people they work.

“The sad truth is the ads are misleading, and the products won’t melt away fat or give you a six-pack,” they continued. “In fact, many contain ingredients that can be damaging to your health.”

The Media Matters allegations of TikTok come as the platform faces scrutiny amid security concerns.

The app’s CEO Shou Zi Chew is slated to testify before Congress later this year, as government officials introduce bills to ban the app. The news comes as multiple universities ban the use of the platform on their campuses.

This article was originally posted by The New York Post.

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