Families in displacement camps in Syria who seek donations on TikTok are only receiving less than 30 percent of the donated amount, an investigation by the BBC has revealed.
The BBC reportedly saw streams earning up to $1,000 per hour, only a fraction of which is earned by the family in front of the camera.
Livestream viewers can send the gifts in the form of digital tokens like roses, costing a few cents, to virtual lions costing $500. The social media application’s token system acts as rewards or tips for content creators.
In one instance, the BBC revealed a conversation with Mona Ali al-Karim and her six daughters, who go live on TikTok every day, sitting on the floor of their tent for hours.
They repeat the few English phrases they know: “Please like, please share, please gift,” in the hopes of raising money to treat her daughter who is blind.
Mona’s husband was killed in an airstrike.
Middlemen were found to facilitate the onboarding process onto TikTok wherein families in these camps are provided with mobile phones and other equipment needed to go live, the British broadcaster reported on Wednesday.
These middlemen reportedly work with agencies affiliated to TikTok in China and the Middle East. The agencies are part of TikTok's global strategy to “recruit live streamers and encourage users to spend more time on the app,” the report said.
Hamid is one such middleman.
He reportedly sold his livestock to pay for a mobile phone, SIM card and Wi-Fi connection to work with families on TikTok.
He works with 12 different families, according to the BBC report.
He said he pays the families most of the profits, and collects operation costs. He is also reportedly supported by live agencies in China who work directly with TikTok.
Contrarily, TikTok’s policies explicitly state that a user is not allowed to solicit gifts and payments. Until the investigation, no action was taken on many of the accounts tracked by the British broadcaster.
When TikTok was contacted for comment, all the accounts were banned, the BBC reported.
TikTok, the world's fastest-growing social media app, has made more than $6.2 billion in gross revenue from in-app spending since its launch in 2016, according to analytics company Sensor Tower.
It operates in over 150 markets and supports 35 languages. The company is mostly owned by China-based ByteDance.