A tool within Lark, the software TikTok employees use for work chats, document hosting, calendars, and video conferencing, offers personal ads for employees alongside company updates.
By Emily Baker-White, Forbes Staff
Every morning, thousands of TikTok employees around the world start their work day by signing into Lark, a wide-ranging workplace productivity suite developed by the short video app’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance. On the Lark homepage, titled “Workplace,” they receive push notifications from a ByteDance company intranet forum called ByteMoments, featuring channels like “ByteDance updates,” “Work Discussions,” “Product Feedback” — and another channel called “Meet Cute.”
There, they can find a feed of posts made by employees advertising their family members, friends, and acquaintances as potential romantic partners for their colleagues. The posts generally contain photos of the person being advertised, often alongside their height, weight, and other attributes.
“The Meet Cute section is for introducing external friends to ByteDance colleagues. Do not post the personal information of internal ByteDancers, including your own,” explains a page at the top of the channel. The page notes that the channel has generated over 420 “moments” and garnered over 11,500 “interactions.”
Comments beneath the posts show TikTok and ByteDance employees evaluating people as potential partners — in one comment thread, several men classify a woman, the cousin of a colleague, as a “P0,” a big tech term that typically means a task of the highest priority. In another, where men discuss a woman’s weight, a commenter brags: “my girlfriend is thinner than your girlfriend ?.”
For the most part, users of ByteMoments appear to be employees based in China, where — and according to the Chinese-language news outlet Tech Planet, several other tech giants also provide dating forums or matchmaking services for their employees, including Alibaba, Meituan, and Huawei. Still, the ByteMoments platform is used by TikTok employees worldwide, including many in the United States and elsewhere who rely on it to do their jobs. Three TikTok employees told Forbes that the company’s role in facilitating matchmaking felt like an encroachment on personal boundaries.
If you lure young, talented employees to the office and make them want to stay, then they will work longer and harder.
Lik Sam Chan, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who has studied Chinese dating apps, said he had never heard of these programs, but wasn’t surprised by their existence. Before China opened its economy in the late ‘80s, he explained, people’s “work units” (or “danweis”) were the center of most young people’s lives, and in addition to being their place of employment, those units were social organizations that provided dating services for their populations.
Now, he said, some companies are serving a similar role in employees’ lives. At glitzy tech campuses, employees already spend long hours shopping, eating and socializing without ever leaving work. “If you can’t date outside the company, and you can’t, because you’re at the company all the time, then you look inward, and I guess that’s why these services appear.” He said even some factories in China offer matchmaking services to their employees.
Like Chinese tech companies, Silicon Valley giants like Apple, Meta, and Google have built lavish campuses, equipped with everything from private pools and theaters and parks with kombucha on tap to lavish free restaurants and alcohol and private transportation to and from work each day. Across cultures, the incentive system is simple: If you lure young, talented employees to the office and make them want to stay, then they will work longer and harder, making work a more central part of their life and identity. (Disclosure: in a past life, I held policy positions at Facebook and Spotify.)
Most U.S. tech companies also have some form of internal social network — whether built on company software (like Facebook’s Workplace) or on external tools (Forbes, for example, uses Slack). But those companies generally do not offer spaces for romance on work platforms, likely because they could make employees feel sexually pressured or uncomfortable.
Chan noted that many companies in China, like those in the U.S., prohibit romantic relationships between employees, which likely explains why ByteMoments says employees can post personal ads for friends and relatives, but not for themselves. Still, especially at large companies — just as in the United States — relationships between staff are not uncommon.
Some U.S.-based ByteDance workers have spoken out publicly about how the company’s Chinese headquarters influenced their experiences at work. In a 2022 blog post, a former ByteDance employee named Melody Chu wrote about her year and a half at TikTok, which was her first experience working for a company not based in the U.S. “We’re accustomed to our company’s HQ being in Silicon Valley — or at least within the U.S. Other regions work around our time zone. Other regions align with our cultural and language standards. Not so at TikTok.” She also said that things were often missed in translation: “Miscommunication ran rampant.” But for Chu, “[t]he core issue is that Bytedance applies the same systems and working cultures they use in China onto U.S. teams, by forcing cross-country dependency and having teams directly roll up into China-based managers and leaders.”
TikTok and ByteDance declined to comment by press time. After publication of this story, ByteDance spokesperson Jodi Seth sent the following statement by email: “We consider cultural differences when building internal apps like ByteMoments. The Meet Cute function was specifically designed as an optional offering for mainland China employees only. Over the past few weeks, a technical bug briefly allowed a nominal amount of employees in other markets to add the channel to their ByteMoments on an opt-in basis. The bug has been resolved.”
In response to a follow-up question about how ByteMoments was showing dating posts to U.S. employees in 2022, Seth commented: “"We believe you are referring to an older version of ByteMoments, which was only visited by a handful of employees outside mainland China and has been deprecated. It has been replaced by the new ByteMoments app, which includes the group designed specifically for mainland China employees."
In China, ByteDance has been open about its role as matchmaker for employees. A 2020 post from the company’s official “brand culture” account on its Chinese-language news aggregator, Jinri Toutiao, announced the company’s internal matchmaking service, known as the “Taro Project,” (Tech Planet noted that it is also known as the “175 Project” because women usually prefer men who are at least 175 centimeters tall). In a headline, the post said, “All Byte staff are matchmakers, creating the most reliable internet dating platform.” It advertised a male-to-female ratio of 1:9, and advised potential participants to “see finding a partner as an OKR,” invoking an acronym for “objective and key result,” a goal-setting system used widely across Silicon Valley.
Chan, the professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the corporate focus on finding a partner reflected strong Chinese expectations that women, especially, should find a spouse before their late ‘20s, or face social stigma for being “too late.”
“We’re accustomed to our company’s HQ being in Silicon Valley — or at least within the U.S. Other regions work around our time zone. Other regions align with our cultural and language standards. Not so at TikTok.”
For some employees at TikTok, the presence of ByteMoments as part of their workday has exposed a tension between the company’s internal culture and its external image. The company has gone out of its way to develop goodwill with queer, nonwhite, and gender nonconforming creators. When TikTok flew creators to Washington D.C. to lobby on its behalf last March, the group skewed young, queer and racially diverse, representative of a progressive Gen-Z that never fully found its footing on competitor platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
But TikTok the workplace, employees say, has not always shown the same commitment to diversity and gender parity as TikTok the app. In 2020, reporting from The Intercept showed that the company told content moderators to suppress posts by people with “abnormal body shape,” “ugly facial looks,” and other physical characteristics. In 2022, the company demoted a senior executive in charge of a London ecommerce team after the Financial Times revealed that he had told employees he did not “believe in” maternity leave. In 2023, another executive in the same office made inappropriate advances toward women in the office, according to four women who spoke to the FT.
Still, like any platform for user-generated content, ByteMoments has seen its share of discriminatory posts. In some recent threads, employees made derogatory comments about Japanese people. Several recent posts referenced Japan’s release of radioactive wastewater into the ocean, suggesting that the country and its food were unclean as a result. One person complained that eating Japanese food would cause them to “start mutating” and that “priority races need to eat.” Under the post, another employee commented, “Be publicly acceptable,” in an apparent effort to check the racism of the original poster.
On the Meet Cute ByteMoments channel, the company reminds users that ByteMoments is a platform, not a service, and that it is thus not responsible for ensuring that posts are accurate.
One employee on the company’s “organizational culture” team wrote a post warning colleagues to protect themselves while meeting up with strangers — a warning that is reiterated in the Meet Cute introduction. “Be discerning when engaging with posts,” it says, “The company is not responsible for mediating disputes.”
Alexandra Levine contributed reporting.
This story has been updated with additional comment from ByteDance.