TikTok modified its coverage, now cryptocurrency influencers are contemplating switching to competing platforms

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A man with a phone walks past a sign for the TikTok app from the Chinese company ByteDance, known locally as Douyin, at the International Artificial Products Expo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China on October 18, 2019.

Reuters

If Lucas Dimos gets another video removed from TikTok, he suspects that he will be kicked off the platform forever.

Last month, at least 10 of his videos were removed for promoting illegal activity and regulated goods. But Dimos, who posts content on a TikTok account called theblockchainboy, says he didn’t do anything wrong.

“It left my account so razor-sharp,” said Dimos. “We’re dying out here. We’re stalling. We’ve been trying to build a community and steer this whole movement in the right direction.”

TikTok cryptocurrency content creators like Dimos who claim they are just trying to educate consumers about the emerging market say they have been hit hard by the rapid changes in the social media company. In July, TikTok implemented a system that can automatically block videos that violate its policies.

CNBC spoke to 11 cryptocurrency creators for this story, who say they posted educational crypto videos, but their content is flagged or permanently removed by TikTok with little explanation. Some said their accounts are also being temporarily banned more frequently. Most of the influencers CNBC spoke to said they haven’t been paid to promote crypto content on TikTok in the past few weeks, and that video views and new followers have declined since July.

Read more about cryptocurrencies from CNBC Pro

TikTok declined to comment on the creators’ reports. Instead, a spokesman referred CNBC to the company’s community guidelines page. The spokesman did not want to indicate which guidelines crypto creators are violating.

When videos are pulled from TikTok, the creators indicate that they have received a notification that they have violated community guidelines. It is sometimes indicated that content related to “illegal activities and regulated goods” has been posted. The guidelines haven’t been updated since December, despite TikTok rolling out its new detection feature a little over a month ago when developers say deactivations have increased.

Some of the creators CNBC spoke to are considering switching to platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook’s Instagram, and the Discord chat app, where they have more freedom to share content.

“The real problem isn’t advertising,” said a Wendy O cryptocurrency influencer. “It’s the fact that TikTok bans and censors shadow creators of cryptocurrency, and many of us have great educational posts.”

Navigating unfamiliar terrain

The creators CNBC spoke to say the recent updates are warranted to crack down on spam accounts or fraudulent moneymakers like “rug pulls,” where individuals trick users into buying into a cryptocurrency to prop up the price and get off. But they say the system overcompensates and influences those who are just trying to educate their audiences about crypto.

“It was almost like a knee-jerk reaction from TikTok against all of these scams,” said Dimos, who has over 314,000 followers on the platform. “While they may have blocked the fraudulent posts, all of us creators cannot publish any of our content.”

For the past few weeks, YouTubers have said that they cannot use words like “Binance”, “Decentralized Finance” or certain coins like Bitcoin or Ethereum in a video without removing them. Developers agree that these words will alert the algorithm, resulting in automatic deactivation or verification. Chart analyzes and forecasts also characterize the system, such as developers like Timothy, who is referred to as Cryptoweatherman on TikTok.

As per its Community Guidelines, TikTok says it will remove content “including video, audio, live stream, images, comments, and text” that violates a violation and that it is using a “blend of technology and human moderation” to follow its guidelines enforce reports before the content is even created.

When a video is removed, the user is usually advised that the post violates a community policy or relates to “illegal activity and regulated goods.” But the message doesn’t provide any specifics, the makers said. The creators CNBC spoke to said if they got two videos removed, they would be banned from posting content for at least 24 hours. Bans can last anywhere from a day to a week, said the creators CNBC spoke to.

TikTok’s policy states that users will be notified when content is removed and that they can appeal the deactivation if they “believe it has not been violated”. The company also says it will suspend or suspend accounts that are “repeatedly involved in serious or repeated violations” and that they “consider information available on other platforms and offline” in making those decisions.

When the creators contact TikTok about an account suspension or a video being pulled, most say they were ignored or sent an automated response. There’s no phone number to call, no representative to email, but some YouTubers say that if they object to the deactivation, TikTok will post a lot of videos again.

Joshua Thillens, known as Joshua Jake on TikTok, says he had at least eight videos removed. When CNBC spoke to Mason Versluis, a creator with nearly 430,000 followers on an account called cryptomasun, he experienced a 48-hour ban that prevented him from posting.

Before changing the policy, Versluis had a video of a car accident removed. In the past few weeks, he said between 30 and 35 of his videos have been removed. Most were reinstated after he appealed.

“I am not claiming to be a financial assistant or a financial advisor or even a trader,” said Versluis. “I’m just someone who’s been into crypto for four years. I’ve studied this thoroughly and the information I bring and the opinions should speak for themselves.”

Views and followers reach a bottleneck

Many YouTubers also say that views and followers have slowed down in the past few weeks, and followers say the YouTubers are not showing up on their “For You” pages. TikTok’s community guidelines state that the company can limit the visibility of a post in search results and other feeds.

Mack Lorden, who has over 102,000 followers on TikTok, says he built his following quickly when he launched his platform in January. But he “hit a bottleneck” last month, a change he attributes to both the policy change and the drop in prices in the crypto market.

Even smaller creators like Miguel Morales, who has a little more than 5,200 followers on his account called Blockchaincrusader, are feeling the pinch. Morales says views of good videos have dropped from nearly 100,000 to 10,000. On a good day, he’s lucky enough to get over 1,000 views.

Nick Dye, who has over 14,400 followers on his account called the_cryptokeeper, says he was getting 300 to 400 followers a day consistently for the first few months after starting his account and posting a viral video. He said the number of new followers increased from hundreds to maybe three or six a day after the policy change. He says he got his first 12,000 followers in just 25 days. The last few thousand took twice as long.

“Nobody knows what to say and what not to say,” said Dye. “It discourages newer creators like me who have the knowledge and experience that they can offer. We are afraid to share things for fear of being banned. “

Get creative with crypto content

In the weeks since the changes, creators have said they are getting creative with the content they post. Wendy O. recently posted a series of videos related to cryptocurrencies as ketos. Dye calls Ethereum his “girlfriend”. Carla Nasui and Walker Van Dixhorn, known as The Crypto Couple, have always used comedy to discuss crypto, a setup that supposedly saved them from being banned. Morales has cut production from three videos a day to just two.

Some creators CNBC has spoken to have created sponsored content in the past and say it can make anywhere from $ 300 to $ 20,000 depending on following. This payment is occasionally made in cryptocurrencies.

Versluis has teamed up with DAO Maker, a crowdfunding platform that also serves as a launch pad for some cryptos, and IOI, one of the cryptocurrencies launched through them. Wendy O. has created content for a platform called Celsius that is involved in crypto lending.

Some also make money through paid Discord subscriptions and one-on-one investment sessions. But all of the creators surveyed by CNBC said they make most of their content for fun or educate the masses, and they never explicitly ask users to buy into a coin.

An uncertain future at TikTok

Angel Talamantes, who goes from begincrypto and has over 41,100 followers, admits Some influencers “misused” sponsored posts and sponsored projects without researching the changes.

“A lot of influencers who have a large following don’t really know what they’re promoting,” he said. “You hear the pitch of the cryptocurrency and it sounds good.”

Morales and the other creators like to abide by the rules but say the company needs to clarify the guidelines. This includes a clear definition of what counts as promoting cryptocurrencies and what qualifies their content as illegal activity and regulated goods. You also want a direct TikTok representative who can answer questions and concerns.

Amid the uncertainty, some YouTubers are preparing to invest their time in other platforms. Lorden says he’s building his YouTube and Discord accounts.

Thillens recently opened an account called CryptoKnight with Versluis, Timothy, and Dimos that runs through Discord. They plan to host public events and start a website so they “can’t be filtered”. But he admits that TikTok went viral overnight, trumping engagement on other platforms.

“There is no such thing,” he said.

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