TikTok was launched in 2016 and by 2019 had half a billion users. It is the most downloaded Apple app and the sixth most downloaded app in the world. “With 315 million downloads in the first three months of 2020, TikTok set a new record for the most installs by any app in a single quarter” (Business Insider, Apr. 16, 2020).
TikTok is especially popular in Asia. It has 124 million users in America, 173 million in China, and 466 million in India. It is also very popular in Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. As for June 2020, it is the most popular app in the U.S., the U.K., and Spain in consumption time.
41% of TikTok users are aged 16-24, but there is a trend toward increased use among adults.
“TikTok is especially popular among teens, who typically use it to post videos of themselves singing along to their favorite songs, short comedy sketches, or a variety of viral ‘challenges’” (“Does TikTok Allow Strangers,” Snopes.com, Feb. 18, 2019).
TikTok is an app for creating and watching 15 second videos. It is a self-expression forum. “TikTok might be described as a repository of canned content to be conveniently remixed with user-created videos, a viral meme generating machine that makes users feel like rock stars” (“TikTok,” Forbes, June 28, 2020).
“It’s very user-centric.” “What makes it so attractive is that practically anyone can become a content provider because of the simplicity of using the app.”
“It is a way to express themselves and create short-form video clips to gain a following and build a community around their passions. It also features some great special effects that users can apply to their videos to make them more unique. You can also cross-post the content on other platforms to share it with more people” (“TikTok app safety,” Internetmatters.org, Dec. 3, 2019).
“TikTok has the video prowess of YouTube, the immediacy of Snapchat, and the concise artistry of Instagram, making it an ample playground for aspiring influencers” (“TikTok Tricks,” Kim Kimando Show, Mar. 1, 2020).
“TikTok trends are spilling over onto Instagram, YouTube, and TV shows like Saturday Night Live. Its stars are appearing in Super Bowl ads and late-night talk shows. And songs that become popular on TikTok are topping Billboard charts–the music artist Drake recently used TikTok to release his latest single, ‘Toosie Slide’” (“TikTok is breaking download records and taking over pop culture,” Business Insider, Apr. 16, 2020).
It was initially launched in China as Douyin, and in 2017 it was renamed TikTok and launched by ByteDance for markets outside of China. ByteDance purchased Musical.ly and merged it with TikTok.
The United States military banned TikTok from government-issued smartphones and strongly discouraged them from keeping the app on personal devices. This is due to the possibility of TikTok being used by the Chinese government for spying purposes. Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman, warns, “Because I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it’s always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone. I actively tell people, ‘Don’t install that spyware on your phone’” (“Reddit CEO: TikTok is ‘fundamentally parasitic,’” Techcrunch.com, Feb. 27, 2020).
TikTok tried to cannibalize its user’s contacts by asking users to sync their contacts and sending notifications to the contacts announcing new videos.
Like all youth-oriented social media, TikTok is facilitating the sexualization of society.
“The fame-seeking, music-video ethos of the app has given rise to an uncomfortable trend of young teens engaging in sexually suggestive dancing and behavior” (Snopes.com, Feb. 18, 2019).
“[M]ost TikTok users are girls 13 or less who record themselves dancing and lip syncing to their favorite songs, often trying to be the most provocative or daring. … Now, if you put a whole bunch of videos of pubescent girls dancing to their favorite music on a social network with recommendation tools it’s going to become a magnet for sexual predators who are likely to try to contact them through the app’s chat feature; what’s more, it even helps users find videos of a certain type. … the FTC has already fined TikTok $5.7 million for storing profiles and personal information of children aged under thirteen without their parents’ consent, as well making those profiles public and even for allowing, until October 2016, to share their location… What could possibly go wrong?” (“TikTok: A Lesson in Irresponsibility,” Forbes, July 4, 2019).
It was reported in 2020 that TikTok has become a dating app. Users are posting “cute, short videos sharing a little about themselves” with hashtags such as #datemeplz, #someonedateme, #wouldyoudateme, $reasontodateme, and #plsdateme. These receive millions of views. Interested parties can leave comments, follow them, or send a direct message (DM).
“Users flirt through comments and DMs on TikTok, then they might switch over to another platform (like Snapchat) to talk further, and then make their grand entrance back on TikTok as a new couple” (“TikTok is the Latest Dating App,” Axis.org).
“The possibility of receiving unwanted DMs from older people, even predators, is always within question when it comes to the internet, but openly inviting others to reach out with their interest in dating you obviously leaves a wider chasm for inappropriate behavior to occur” (Axis.org).
Like all social media, TikTok has the potential to be a massive time waster. “Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s cringey, but it’s definitely addictive” (“10 TikTok Statistics,” Oberlo.com, Nov. 22, 2019). 90% of TikTok users access the app on a daily basis.
TikTok recommends videos based on AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms that study the user’s behaviour, and by swiping down the user keeps watching whatever is offered. “It gives them a sense of mystery and makes them excited … it’s easy to stay in the loop of watching more and more videos” (“Why Is TikTok Sweeping over the World?” UXDesign.cc, Mar. 13, 2019).
In June 2020, TikTok users signed up for hundreds of thousands of tickets for President Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a prank, tricking the campaign chairman into announcing that more than a million people had registered and formulating plans for a non-existent overflow crowd.
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