TikTok cashes in on Syrian refugees begging on live streams: BBC

  • A BBC investigation found that TikTok is profiting from live streams of Syrian refugees.
  • The BBC saw Syrian refugees in a camp begging on TikTok and earning up to $1,000 an hour.
  • However, the money they ultimately received was far less than the endowed value.

TikTok is benefiting from live streams of Syrian refugees begging for cash gifts, according to a BBC investigation published on Tuesday.

The BBC visited a Syrian camp where it saw a dozen families working with “TikTok middleman” Hamid Al-Alwa, who is circulating a 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 reduced by the time the cash reaches his bank account.

“If we get a lion as a gift, it’s worth $500,” Hamid said, referring to a lion that appears on a livestreamer’s screen when a huge donation is delivered. “By the time it hits the stock exchange in Al-Dana, it’s only $155.”

Some Syrian refugees were earning $1,000 an hour on their streams, but were receiving far less, the investigation found.

To test TikTok’s giveaway system, the BBC asked one of its journalists to broadcast live from a TikTok account based in Syria. The BBC donated $106 to the journalist’s account through TikTok’s live gift system. The reporter received $33.03, according to the report.

According to the BBC’s estimate, after the commission taken by money transfer shops and middlemen, a family would get just $19 out of a $106 donation.

The BBC received a statement from TikTok, which read: “We are deeply concerned about the information and allegations brought to us by the BBC and have taken prompt and strong action.” TikTok refused to reveal to the BBC how much money it gets from live streaming giveaways.

TikTok also told the BBC that begging content was banned on its platform and that it would work to strengthen its “global policies on exploitative begging”.

Insider searched TikTok and found at least five videos of refugees begging for help. All five videos were live streams recorded by viewers. In one video, a group of refugees could be seen gathered around an elderly man, one of whom repeatedly screamed: “Help me, I need help.”

Another video showed a man and three children who appeared to be thanking viewers for gifts on his live stream.

It was not clear where these streamers were located. A search of the platform showed that they were no longer broadcasting under the usernames appearing in these clips.

Users can send live gifts on TikTok using virtual coins. These gifts, according to TikTok’s virtual items policy, can be used to “rate or show your appreciation for an item of User Content uploaded or streamed by another user.” The gifts are then converted into “diamonds” in the recipient’s account, which can be exchanged for money.

“Diamonds are based on the rewards a content provider receives, with a conversion rate set by us from time to time in our sole and exclusive discretion,” TikTok writes on its website.

It is not clear how much money TikTok receives as a commission on the withdrawal. TikTok representatives did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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