Ariana Grande in front of tan background with TikTok search to her right 'ariana grande weight then and now'

Debby Wong/Shutterstock @T0XICENERGY/Twitter (Licensed) by Caterina Cox

Is TikTok’s search bar creating more drama?

'Literally the search bar starts rumors about people.'


Audra Schroeder

Internet Culture

Posted on Apr 21, 2023

TikTok’s search function debuted last year, as part of an effort to become users’ go-to search engine (and keep them in the app). But when that feature rolled out, there were reports that TikTok’s struggle to contain misinformation was bleeding into search results as well.

In the last few months, there have been more instances where TikTok’s recommended searches are creating drama—and rumors.

How does TikTok’s search bar work?

There are plenty of tutorials on how to personalize and categorize the searches you see, including TikTok’s own, as well as videos on how to use search to create SEO

@claireliz_ such an easy way to improve your Tiktok SEO and begin to understand how the tiktok algorithm is categorizing your content! try this on your own videos and let me know what you find 💗 #tiktokseo #tiktokseohacks #tiktokseostrategy #seostrategy #microinfluencertips #microinfluencertiktok #aspiringcreatortips #aspiringcreators #seotips ♬ original sound – claire | social media coach

Last summer TikTok rolled out the function in the comments, where keywords were linked in blue. The search bar now also sits at the top of the comment section, and the search recommendations that show up there are the result of what people searched after watching, as well as keywords in the comments.

That seems to be causing confusion for some creators.

In February, creator loloverruled posted to Twitter about a previous TikTok in which he was “thinking I was going to die in the emergency room,” and he noticed the search on the video said “curly hair routine.” He amended his tweet with the cost of the ER visit.

In the last few months, TikTok search recommendations have produced a few concerning and baffling moments, where there seems to be more focus on highlighting drama around influencers and celebs.  


Earlier this month, a screenshot of an Ariana Grande TikTok, in which she addressed concerns about her health, showed “ariana grande weight then and now” in the search bar. “the fact that this is what the search bar says on the tiktok rly fucks with me,” said the Twitter user who posted it.

Last week, singer Bebe Rexha posted about TikTok’s search bar saying “bebe rexha weight” on a fan account’s video of her performing at Coachella, tweeting, “Seeing that search bar is so upsetting.”

Both the Grande and Rexha videos that initially showed those searches now show different ones. The search bar on the Coachella video currently says “bebe rexha old body.” The bar on Grande’s currently says “what happened to ariana grande.” TikTok does sometimes remove specific search suggestions after review. Users can also report recommended searches by pressing down on them.

bebe rexha tiktok

As Embedded recently noted, influencers have been swept up in the rumor mill as well: TikTok’s search suggested popular creators Niamh Adkins and Joe Ando-Hirsh had broken up, though that hadn’t been made public. Model Anna Paul had to address a suggested search saying she was “being rude to fans” last year. Popular creators will often be tagged with whatever controversy has been associated with them. Or, in some cases, a controversy is created. Might that keep users on the app longer as well?

@anna..paull Replying to @estella ❤︎ ♬ original sound – Anna Paul

In February, creator Summer Fox addressed a question about why the search bar on her videos read “Summer Fox transgender.”

“I’m not transgender,” Fox clarified. “But I wouldn’t be offended if somebody thought I was.” She goes on to say that she thinks a “rumor” might have been started in her comment section after another creator with a lot of followers made videos about her, and that’s why the search shows up. Elsewhere, there’s been confusion around searches that seem racist. 

@summerfox___ Replying to @b r i o n y 🍄 ♬ original sound – Summer Fox

In perhaps the most invasive example so far, in March, labor and delivery nurse Jen Hamilton posted a follow-up to a video about working an emotional shift, after the search suggestion on the original TikTok read “elyse myers pregnancy loss.” Myers, a popular creator who announced her pregnancy in February, did not lose her baby and Hamilton’s video was completely unrelated to Myers.  

“I don’t like it, because literally the search bar starts rumors about people,” said creator garbagegirl_, in a TikTok about the Myers search. “But this is too far.” Hamilton’s original video, which has more than 4 million views, now just says “elyse myers” in the search bar.

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*First Published: Apr 21, 2023, 12:09 pm CDT