March 17, 2023

We Didn’t Pay Creators The $2B As Promised, Say TikTok’s Ex-Head Of Product

It appears that TikTok US’s former head of product, has said the quiet part out loud. According to Sean Kim, TikTok’s Creator Fund isn’t concerned with helping creators monetize their content.

In 2020, TikTok announced the launch of a $200 million creator fund to help US creators monetize. They later increased this fund to $2 billion. In Europe, the company announced a $70 million fund that was expected to rise to $300 million within three years.

TikTok agreed to pay fund participants on a sliding scale based on how well their videos perform, with compensation entirely dependent on organic reach as opposed to paid ads.

However, Sean Kim reportedly told audiences at SXSW that the company had no intention to help creators monetize their work.

“When we launched the TikTok creator fund, we didn’t launch it to help creators monetize,” Kim told audiences.

“I mean, that’s what we said everywhere publicly. ‘We’re doing this to help creators monetize.’ That was not why we launched it. We launched it as a reactive measure against other platforms launching their creator funds.”

“Platforms don’t really care if you are successful at monetization. I’ll be completely honest. The reason why is because their metrics and north-star metrics are 100 percent focused on retention, [daily active users], publish rates, active days.”

Even more concerning was the following statement.

“If you see a $2 billion creator fund, who’s actually checking if we paid $2 billion? Nobody. Nobody could check,” Kim is reported to have said. 

When his fellow panellist Cassey Ho, founder and CEO at Blogilates, asked Kim if TikTok paid out the $2 billion, he responded, “No.”

TikTok has always been tight-lipped about how they calculate creator payments, with Backstage reporting that payments were typically much lower than ad revenue programs.

Cassey Ho Blogilates
Cassey Ho, founder and CEO of popular blog brand Blogilates

Moreover, Bustle reported that some creators found that their videos received fewer views and less exposure on the coveted For You Page (FYP) after they joined the fund, despite TikTok’s assurances this would not happen.

The Creator Fund is one of several TikTok programs that purport to help creators monetize their content on the platform. For Black creatives, who already struggle to receive adequate recognition, attribution, and financial compensation for their content, this is worrying news.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a TikTok spokesperson failed to address Kim’s allegations about the $2 billion payouts. However, they told the outlet that “TikTok’s product leaders are encouraged and expected to develop solutions that bring meaningful value to our community.”

“We’re motivated by helping our creators earn livelihoods, and that commitment is best seen through the success of our creators and the continual evolution of our products.”

Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)