TikTok makes 70% profit from livestreams of Syrian refugee families begging

MANY displaced families in Syrian refugee camps are begging on TikTok livestream broadcasts but an investigation by BBC has revealed that the platform takes up to 70 per cent of the proceeds.

According to the BBC, livestreams earn up to $1,000 (£900) an hour but the displaced persons got a little portion of the proceeds.

The BBC revealed that this was aided by ‘TikTok middlemen’ providing devices for refugees to go live on the platform.

Syria Refugee Camps. Source: BBC
Syria Refugee Camps. Source: BBC

TikTok middlemen said they operated with agencies linked to the company, and are part of its plan to onboard live streamers and make users spend more time on the app.

Since the contents suggested are based on the user’s location, middlemen use British SIM cards because people from the United Kingdom are reputed to be most generous.

Although the gifts are virtual, they cost the viewers actual money and can be withdrawn as cash.

The BBC followed 30 TikTok accounts broadcasting live from Syrian refugee camps for five months. The data gathered shows that viewers donated gifts worth up to $1,000 an hour.

TikTok. Source: BBC

TikTok did not reveal its deductions from virtual gifts, so BBC investigated through a Syrian reporter who contacted an agency as a refugee, got an account and went live, while another account handled by a BBC staff in London sent gifts.

After the live session, the Syrian reporter’s account balance was $33, TikTok had deducted 69 per cent value from the gifts worth of $106.

The $33 left from the BBC’s $106 gift was slashed by another 10 per cent after transactions in the local money transfer shop, while middlemen also took their cut which left the Syrian reporter with $19.31.

One of the middlemen, identified as Hamid, told the BBC that he was aided by ‘live agencies’ working directly with TikTok in China.

“They help us if we have any problems with the app. They unlock blocked accounts. We give them the name of the page, the profile picture, and they open the account,” Hamid said.

These agencies known as “livestreaming guilds” are all over the world, and TikTok contracts them to help users produce more appealing content.

The agencies told the BBC that TikTok pays them a commission according to the length of livestreams and the value of gifts received.

The agencies told the BBC that TikTok pays them a commission according to the length of livestreams and the value of gifts received. Source: BBC

However Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Policy Manager at Access Now, Marwa Fatafta, said the livestreams are contrary to TikTok’s policies.

“TikTok clearly states that users are not allowed to explicitly solicit gifts, so this is a clear violation of their own terms of services, as well as the rights of these people,” she said.

Fatafta said while people have the right to share their stories online to seek compassion, these livestreams “lack dignity, and are humiliating”.

According to TikTok’s rules, users must have 1,000 followers to go live, they must not directly solicit for gifts and minors must be protected against “harm, endangerment or exploitation”.

But contrary to the rules, the BBC reported 30 accounts showing minors begging.

The BBC reached out to TikTok for comments and the company later banned all 30 accounts.

“We are deeply concerned by the information and allegations brought to us by the BBC, and have taken prompt and rigorous action.

“This type of content is not allowed on our platform, and we are further strengthening our global policies around exploitative begging.”

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