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tv   Tik Tok Begging  BBC News  October 20, 2022 2:30am-3:00am BST

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of territory in the east of the country. they're advancing east of the city of lyman. president putin has announced heightened security measures across russia and declared martial law in the four unlawfully occupied regions of ukraine. president biden says the us will sell off a further 15 million barrels of crude oil from its emergency supplies. the release is meant to prevent prices rising after the oil—producing nations, led by saudi arabia, said they would cut production. now, bbc news investigates a new trend on tiktok — hundreds of families in refugee camps in syria begging for gifts on tiktok livestreams. there's a new trend on tiktok.
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children in camps in syria begging for hours on end. they're asking for tiktok gifts that can be withdrawn as real money. but that money isn't all going to them. we've been following more than 300 accounts going live on tiktok, trying to work out where that money is going. tiktok has got a ferocious appetite for growth. the longer that they spend on the platform, the more revenue they generate. how people living in desperate circumstances suddenly have the phones, internet and tiktok accounts to go live... tiktok is creating an enabling an ecosystem that runs on the exploitation of people's suffering. ..and why so many of the donors come from the uk.
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over £1,000 would have been put in there and that to them would have been a lot of money. we've uncovered a network of companies around the world, including agencies contracted by tiktok in china, all making money off these displaced families. earlier this year, tiktok users in the uk began to notice something different on the app. suddenly, their feeds were full of live videos of syrian families living in tents asking for help. this is the account i've been using to follow some of these families in syria. and you can see here, all of these accounts are live right now. and actually, if you watch some of the videos, you can see there's a pattern. the children seem to be saying the same kind of things. they're asking for likes and gifts. and if you listen closely, sometimes you can hear there's a voice off—camera actually
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telling them what to say. over the past five months, we've been following hundreds of tiktok accounts posting the same type of videos, to find out who's behind this trend. a lot of them are displaced from their homes because they're destroyed, because of the war, of what's... the last ten years in syria. 0n tiktok, people started flagging them as scams. i'm sick of scams on live. exploitation of children. unacceptable. we asked mohammed, a journalist based in syria, what he had heard about it.
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mohammed recognised one of the camps in the videos. there are hundreds of camps in this part of syria. more than two million people live in them, forcibly displaced in syria's long—running civil war. when mohammed got there, he immediately found families begging for gifts on tiktok live. mona's husband was killed in an airstrike. she now lives with her six daughters. sharifa is blind in one eye and has partial sight in the other. for the past month, they've been going on tiktok live. it's tiring work, but they have limited options to earn a living in the camp and meet their basic needs.
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mona and her daughters go live for two or three hours at a time, several times a day. to go live on tiktok, you need at least 1,000 followers. then, when you're live, users can send digital gifts to reward creators for content they like. these gifts are bought with real money, ranging from roses, which cost a few cents, to lions and universes, which cost around $500 each. the gifts are converted
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to a virtual currency that you can withdraw as cash. they've got a private jet. that's why they're happy. they�* re really happy. they're celebrating. we wanted to find out how people who've lost everything in syria's civil war were suddenly all able to broadcast on tiktok. the person filming mona's livestream is hamid, who also lives in the camp and sold his livestock to buy the phone. now, he works with 12 different families and he's known in the camp as a tiktok middleman.
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mohammed asked him how it all worked. he says he does this to help the families make a living. tiktok�*s algorithm suggests content based on where your sim card comes from. hamid told us he buys british sim cards to get british viewers, because he says they're the most generous g ifte rs.
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we found kiosks selling them near the camp — that explains why tiktok users in the uk had been seeing these livestreams and even joining in. big up, my syrian brother, man. big up, my brother, man. thanks, abdullah. let's go. there must have been about 50,000 people that came on my live, and the kids seemed so happy. and even though the man had his legs blown off and he had his arm blown off, he was the most positive guy you could ever meet or speak to. keith used to be a professional rugby player and has nearly a million followers on tiktok. he donated £300, around $350 in tiktok gifts, to a family in syria, and he encouraged his followers to do the same. i love you. i love you, thank you. they was calling me 'muscle man' and stuff and he was going through google translate saying, "my kids love you. "they love your hair, love it." and itjust the buzz, the energy was fantastic. i probably think over
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£1,000 would have been put in there and that, to them, would have been a lot of money. we got the money! we asked a charity in syria about how children are being used in these videos. the charity said it could help support these families as an alternative to making money from tiktok live. many families don't receive a fair wage for their work on tiktok. the first time dokan went live, he says he wasn't paid at all, but he wanted to try again.
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he was hoping to make money to pay for his daughter's heart surgery. to find out how much people are spending on tiktok gifts, we built a program to scrape data from tiktok livestreams. we tracked dozens of accounts which said they were going live
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from camps in syria. the lives we saw would sometimes make over $1,000 an hour in gifts. but people like dokan say they're being paid less than $1 an hour. so, where's all the money going? we asked hamid, who said tiktok middlemen are getting help from agencies in china.
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hamid told us he was working with someone who goes by the name martha, from an agency based in china. we wanted to find out how these agencies were involved. so, mohammed in syria contacted martha, saying he lived ina camp. the pictures martha sent appear to show the offices of a tiktok live agency. agencies like this are a growing part of tiktok�*s business strategy. they're independent, but they're contracted by tiktok to help tiktokers — and tiktok itself —
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make money from livestreaming on the platform. our team in syria heard of at least five different agencies working with syrian families in camps. so, how much money do these agencies take from the livestreams? we spoke to a number of agencies who say they're paid by tiktok to bring livestreamers to the platform. they told us the longer users go live and the more gifts they earn, the more the agencies get paid. we were told by families and middlemen that tiktok takes 50—70% of profits from live gifts and pays some of that to agencies. we asked tiktok about it, but they wouldn't say how much. the only way to find out was to try it for ourselves.
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so, mohammed kept chatting to martha. martha set up an account for us and sent us the username and password. then, we got an invitation to join an agency called giant mena. martha contacted us nearly every day, putting pressure on us to go live. tiktok�*s terms and conditions say you can only go live with more than 1,000 followers. 0ur account had just four, but martha said it would work anyway. so, mohammed went to test it from the outskirts of a camp near idlib. let's buy some coins. yep. we bought $106 — around £90, in tiktok coins. i'm going to call mohammed and tell him to go live. yep.
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wejoined the live from london and used all our coins to send him gifts. we were the only ones on that livestream to do so. let's send him a music box? yeah, go for it. 0k. then, mohammed checked the balance of his account. $33. $33? so, it is 70%. wow! they're taking 70%! next, mohammed went to the local money transfer, where tiktokers cash out their earnings. the money transfer shop and the sim card shop are part of a new economy to help
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facilitate these transactions. from the $106 we donated to mohammed's account, tiktok took $73. that's almost 70%. the money transfer took 10% of what we had left. and hamid told us tiktok middlemen take 35% of what's left after that. so from those 106 dollars, mohammad would have just over $19. and often, the families we spoke to get much, much less. but in the camps, jobs are scarce and there are few other options. kawtaneh and her family sell scraps from the rubbish dump for a living. it's dangerous work, pays next to nothing, and comes with many health risks.
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they also go live on tiktok every evening. they have made money from tiktok, but they know others are profiting from their work. we showed the videos to a non—profit called access now that protects people's rights online. of course, people have the right to go online and share their stories, share the miserable conditions they're living in, try to seek support and sympathy. when i looked at tiktok�*s website, they publicly state that their number one
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priority is to ensure that their community is treated with fundamental dignity and respect, and what ijust saw is exactly the opposite of that. what responsibility does tiktok have towards these people, these families, these children? well, tiktok has a responsibility under the un guiding principles on business and human rights. it's hard to see, first of all, how tiktok is ensuring that the rights and dignity of these communities is being ensured. they state clearly that users are not allowed to solicit explicitly gifts. so, this is a clear violation of their own terms of services, not — let alone, of course, the rights of those people. most of the accounts we followed regularly went live, with children begging for hours at a time. tiktok�*s guidelines say, "we prohibit activities that
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"perpetuate the abuse, harm, endangerment, "or exploitation of minors on tiktok." we reported more than 30 accounts using children for begging in the app to see what tiktok would do about this. at the time, tiktok said there was no violation for every single one of them and the videos remained live. matt navarra is a social media consultant and analyst. why do you think tiktok is placing so much emphasis on the duration of these lives? tiktok has got a ferocious appetite for growth, like most social media platforms. livestreams inevitably pull people in for longer duration. the longer that they spend on the platform, the more
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revenue they generate for the business, the more information they glean from its users in terms of how the algorithm works. in your video, it's obviously prolonging the pain for somebody that already is in a desperate situation. we wanted to put these allegations to tiktok and asked them for an interview. instead, they gave us this statement: tiktok said it removed the accounts that violated its community guidelines and ended its contract with the agency giant mena. we asked giant mena, but they didn't respond. as for tiktok, they told us they don't take 70% of profits from live gifts, but they wouldn't confirm the exact amount or what commission
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they pay to agencies. so, we repeated our experiment with accounts in the uk and syria that weren't signed up to agencies, and found that tiktok took just under 70% every time. most of tiktok�*s downloads come from apple's app store and google play. both of these have codes of conduct that say apps that facilitate the exploitation of children will be removed or rejected. we asked them what they were doing about children begging on tiktok, but neither apple nor google would comment on our investigation. hi, how are you? welcome, welcome, welcome! after all of our conversations that we've had with tiktok — and i'm sitting here right outside their uk offices now — i'm still finding videos like this — many, many videos — with children being used to beg for hours. and it really makes me want to know what will it take for tiktok to stop this
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on their platform? we called keith again to tell him what we had discovered. we found that 70% of all of the money donated would have gone straight into tiktok�*s pockets. are you kidding me? that's ridiculous. it's very unfair — especially to them families over in syria. you've got to have some transparency. and, you know, to me, that's very greedy. it's greed, innit? it's greed. takaful alsham said they would support the families we spoke to with basic supplies for the next three months, help the children find schools and pay for school expenses. we asked them how people around the world could continue to donate.
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many people on tiktok are calling these livestreams scams, but the struggles of the families we met are very, very real. people have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to them but the lion's share lines the pockets of tiktok and its agencies. whilst for these families in syria, life continues with no change in sight.
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hello. wednesday brought a top temperature of 22 celsius in jersey. it was a warm day for some, but a wet day for others, and that is all because of this big, broad area of low pressure, really the engine room of our weather at the moment. it's been sucking warm air of from the south, but it's also been throwing pulses of rain northwards and it will continue to do so. a soggy start to thursday for many, but a mild start. some of the heaviest rain through the morning will be found across the southeast of england, up into east anglia, the east midlands, then into lincolnshire and parts of yorkshire. but some of that rain likely to get as far west as east wales and parts of the west country. this lump, though, of really heavy rain will work its way northward through the day, essentially hugging this north sea coast, so running into north east england and southeast scotland. all the while,
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things brightening up from northern ireland — a much drier day to come here. some sunny spells developing for wales and the south and southwest of england. not as windy as it was on wednesday and still quite warm. actually, temperatures through south wales, southwest england and the channel islands could well get close to 20 degrees. but into the evening, this lump of very heavy rain justjourneys northwards across scotland. it may tend to ease a little as the night wears on as we get into the first part of friday, then another swirl of showers pushes in from the southwest. it does feel a little relentless in terms of these weather systems pushing up from the south, but it will be another mild start to the day. low pressure�*s still in charge for friday, quite a few white lines, isobars, squeezing together here — that shows that we will have some really strong winds. a windier day on friday, certainly around some of these western coats. showers or longer spells of rain with some thunder and lightning drifting northwards, some spells of sunshine in between. these are the wind gusts. we can expect winds gusting up to around 50 mph for some of these exposed coasts
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of southwest england and west wales. but that wind direction is a warm wind direction, so where you see some sunshine in east anglia, highs perhaps of 21 degrees and a fairly warm day elsewhere as well. into the weekend, this first low will weaken a little, drifting northwards. there's another one hot on its heels. in between, though, this brief range of higher pressure, so a slice of something a little drier. i think we can say for the weekend, there will be some drier interludes, but still the chance of some rain at times. bye for now.
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welcome to bbc news. i'm ben boulos. our top stories: fresh chaos for the british government, as the home secretary leaves herjob with a blistering resignation letter. it's a further blow to the prime minister, liz truss, whose premiership was already under threat. iama
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