TikTok seizes most donations to Syrian children

A study conducted by the BBC revealed that social media giant TikTok seized up to 70 percent of donations made to hundreds of Syrians living in refugee camps.

Mona Ali Al Karim and her six daughters live stream daily on TikTok, begging viewers to send them virtual gifts.

They sit on the ground in their tent and stare at the camera for hours, repeating a few English phrases they know:

“Please like, please share, please send gifts.”

Mona’s wife was killed in an airstrike. Mona is now trying to raise the necessary money for her visually impaired daughter Sharifa’s surgery via TikTok live broadcasts.

The gifts Mona and her family want are actually virtual, but these gifts can be purchased with real money and then withdrawn as cash from the social media app.

Those who watch the live broadcasts can gift a few cents worth of roses, or a $500 lion or universe animation.

Mona and her family are one of hundreds of families requesting donations on TikTok. This year, many similar videos began to be seen around the world. While some thought it was a money pit, others did not spare their support.

For example, TikTok celebrity British Keith Mason donated $330 to a family.

“The kids looked so happy. The man had his legs and an arm amputated, but he was one of the most positive people you could meet and talk to,” says Keith.

Those who watch the live broadcasts can gift a lion animation for 500 dollars.


However, he was not keeping accounts.

How did so many people who lost their homes in the civil war in Syria suddenly have the phone, the internet, and the means to broadcast live on TikTok every day? Syrian journalist Mohammed Abdullah found that the camp where one of the videos was shot was near Idlib.

We asked him to visit this refugee camp. When he went to the camp, he saw that many families like Mona’s were broadcasting live on TikTok and asking for donations.

Mohammed met Hamid, who “through TikTok” these families and worked with 12 families in the camp. Hamid, who provided these families with phones, internet connections, and opened and used TikTok accounts, received a commission over the donations made.

However, Hamid says that TikTok seized most of the donations before the money was even in his account. “The lion animation is the greatest gift. It’s worth $500. But when it gets here, it’s down to $155,” he says.

The BBC team examined more than 300 TikTok accounts broadcasting live from refugee camps in Syria. It found that many of these accounts received over $1,000 in gift donations within an hour. However, families in the camps say that only a small part of the donations they receive reaches them.

Dowkan Hamdan Al-Khodr wanted to go on TikTok streams to raise money for his daughter’s heart surgery. After broadcasting live for eight days, the money he received was only 14 dollars.

“That’s when I stopped broadcasting. But they wouldn’t let me leave. They thought I was making excuses, lying to them,” he says.

But where does all that money go then?


In June, we asked TikTok how much of the gift donations made through the app were reserved for themselves. We did not receive any response to our question.

We tried to find the answer to the question ourselves.

We made a TikTok live broadcast through an account we opened in Syria. We sent a gift of 106 dollars to this account through another account in London.

After the live broadcast ended, $33 appeared to have accumulated in the account in Syria. In other words, TikTok seized 69 percent of the donation.

After our experiment, we went to withdraw our money from a local money transfer office. Here, too, a 10% cut was made. TikTok broker Hamid also set aside 35 percent of the remaining money as commission.

In this case, we only have $19 left of the $106 we made. Many families are not even given this much money after live broadcasts.

Marwa Fatafta of digital rights organization Access Now says the hour-long livestreams violate TikTok’s commitment to “prevent the harm and exploitation of minors on the platform.”


To test how seriously TikTok takes its child protection policies, we reported more than 30 accounts on the platform where children were begging for donations. TikTok replied that none of these accounts had infringed any rights.

When the BBC contacted TikTok directly, he received the reply that all the accounts in question were closed. The company refused our interview requests, but sent the following written statement:

“We were deeply concerned about the information and allegations that the BBC presented to us, and we took immediate decisive action. Such content is not allowed on our platform. We are further strengthening our global policies to combat exploitative begging.”

TikTok is the fastest growing social media application in the world with 3.9 billion users. With the spending made on the platform, the company has earned over $6.2 billion.


We contacted some aid organizations in Syria and asked for support to families trying to make money on TikTok and giving feedback to the BBC. Takaful Al Sham has announced that they will send basic aid to these families over the next three months.

On the other hand, hundreds of families still continue to broadcast live on TikTok every day, and most of the donations continue to go to TikTok.

Source: BBC international

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