Originally published in G-You Magazine, 11 December 2020
If you still haven’t heard of the new social media app TikTok you really must have been living under a rock. I’m pretty sure that if you ask any seventeen-year-old with Internet access, they will definitely know what you’re talking about. This app, launched in 2014 originally as musical.ly, has become one of the greatest content nests on the Internet. It hosts videos from millions of creators worldwide. The videos, ranging from 3 to 60 seconds, can consist of challenges, dances, comedy gags and so much more.
It is similar to any other social media’s interface but it has something unique. What makes it different from other video-hosting websites like Vine (2012–2016) is that it has a page that specifically targets the user’s taste: The For You Page. And it’s the first thing you see when you open the app. Using a complex algorithm TikTok pays special attention to the videos that you like, comment and/or share and download as well as the users that you follow. With all these variables taking into consideration by “Big Brother”, TikTok helps everyone who uses the app to eventually find their place within it.
As in any other platform, some people have more following than others… they have millions of fans and a verified blue tick, which makes them become part of the ‘elite’ within this app. Some of them have also associated with other content creators and have been taken under the wing of media managers such as TalentX Management. Management usually buys a house where they live (sometimes temporarily) and the so-called Tiktok Houses — like Hype House or Sway House — are born. Personally, I feel like TikTok Houses are an elegant euphemism for an experience like fraternities and student residences for the ones that couldn’t experience it in college.
What amazes me is that these TikTok stars are under the public eye and their friendships, TikToks, love life, Instagram stories and tweets are scrutinized as if they were Britney Spears or Taylor Swift. Paparazzi line up at the entrance of their houses or the restaurants where they eat, at least in Los Angeles, and fans go crazy for new content: a smile, a vague answer about their new lover or the promise of a new Youtube video. Thanks to the For You Page, practically anyone can make one of their videos go viral: the most viewed video of the whole app has 962.9 million views. TikTok has proven to be a profitable business: Forbes estimated that the highest-earning Tiktok L.A. star Addison Rae was valued at 5 million U.S dollars; she only downloaded the app on summer of 2019!
Although I dismissed the app as silly and corny at the beginning of the year, during quarantine I finally caved in and created a profile, to see what the fuss was all about. Nowadays, I have to admit that I find myself more often than not immersed in the platform for hours. My For You Page consists of people designing their own clothes, dancing like professionals, cooking delicious meals or simply, people who I wish were my friends. It’s like a small window to the world, tailored to what I like(d). Sadly, they are not paying me to sponsor the app: my 34 followers are not enough public to make me relevant in this social app (yet). However, I strongly encourage you to create a profile now and discover this new corner of the cyberworld.
For now, I would like to highlight that yes, TikTok is an entertaining and addictive app. But also, no, Tiktok is not only an app. Whilst dance is a popular content in the app, politics is not a taboo topic and whilst it is unlikely that the For You Page radicalizes your political thinking more than a global pandemic and the consequential economic downfall, it is not something to be overlooked.
An example: when protests all over the United States erupted with the murder of George Floyd caused by police brutality and racism, the app flooded with videos demanding justice and people to speak up and spring to action (not only online but also in any way possible). This isn’t the first time the app responded to public outcry and managed to raise awareness of social justice movements.
Is this the spark of a revolution? Probably not, but let’s not get ahead of history and let’s scroll down our For You Page.