How TikTok conquered the world

Let’s get down to business. . .

The Chinese video app is expected to have 1.8 billion users by the end of the year.

In the five years since TikTok launched, the mobile phone app, once considered a teen dance fad, has grown into one of the most dominant and politically controversial media platforms in the world.

It has surpassed one billion active users faster than any other social network: it has around 17 million users in the UK, over 130 million in the US, 99 million in Indonesia and 74 million in Brazil; It is expected that by the end of the year the number of users will exceed 1.8 billion.

It pulls people into an endless stream of content for hours — so much so that the company had to implement screen time alerts and reminders for people to “take a break” or, otherwise, just “drink water.” “. It’s a platform that helps shape how a generation perceives the world, and in doing so collects a wealth of information about its users for its Chinese owner, ByteDance.

Who owns TikTok?

TikTok evolved from, a Shanghai-based app founded in 2014 in which users shared short lip-sync videos. In 2016, technology firm ByteDance, founded in 2012 by two young software engineers from Beijing, Zhang Yiming and Liang Rubo, launched a similar service, Douyin, which acquired and merged them in 2018. Chinese version of TikTok. They share a common interface but do not have access to each other’s content.

TikTok has long been facing scrutiny from US lawmakers who have questioned its use of user data. In 2020, the US National Security Commission ordered ByteDance to sell the US-based TikTok service over concerns that US user data could be shared with the Chinese government. US lawmakers and TikTok are currently debating a plan that would see it change its data security and governance without requiring a sale.

ByteDance, which bills itself primarily as an AI company, recorded $18.3 billion in revenue in the first three months of 2022. Zhang Yiming is worth $49 billion and is the second richest person in China, according to Forbes. However, TikTok is facing competition: YouTube has launched a successful copycat version of YouTube Shorts.

How it works?

TikTok is an app for sharing short video clips made by other users, ranging in length from 15 seconds to ten minutes (less than a minute on average). The video plays in a loop; users navigate their feed in the app by swiping up and down. The key difference between it and, say, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram is that you don’t have to search for topics or celebrities that interest you or contact your friends.

The For You page just starts showing you an endless stream of TikTok. The more he learns about you, the more the feed becomes less about what you say you want to watch and more about what you actually watch (although you can still search for your interests or follow people, whose content you like).

Its machine learning algorithm collects data about your tastes every second you watch, pause or scroll, tailoring your feed accordingly. In this sense, according to The New York Times, “TikTok is more machine than human.”

What are TikTok videos like?

TikTok started out with dancing and singing – music has always been the focus – but its content has expanded to cover just about any topic you can imagine. Videos with beauty and styling lessons, cooking videos and, of course, videos with cute animals and babies are popular. Video of “Mia the cat” successfully walking a path through overturned paper cups, mounted on a Mission impossible the theme tune has been viewed nearly 200 million times.

However, the hashtags used to tag and filter content range from #fishtok (fishing content, 16 billion views), to #cleantok (57 billion), #farmtok (8 billion) and #medievaltictok (4 billion). #booktok (92 billion) – videos of people enjoying books or talking about them – have supposedly propelled the publishing industry to one of its best years in 2021.

How do people make videos?

TikTok makes them easy to create with a suite of camera effects, editing tools, augmented reality filters, and most importantly, an extensive library of audio clips. They range from snippets of popular songs that sparked dance trends to audio recordings from TV and movies. Users also use the “green screen” feature to, for example, comment on another video as an “answer” or create a “duet” by adding themselves along with another video.

The app provides extensive tips and ideas for your content. You can participate in daring competitions, copy a dance, or make fun of someone who does the same. Popular content creators earn money through ad deals, payouts to creators from TikTok, and receiving TikTok “coins” — the network’s virtual currency — from fans. In the three months to October, TikTokers spent $900 million on the app.

Who watches TikTok?

Two-thirds of teens in the US use the app, and one in six say they use it “almost all the time.” The average American TikTok viewer spends 80 minutes per day on it; that’s more than users spend on Facebook and Instagram combined. In the UK, Ofcom reports that TikTok reaches 66% of users aged 15 to 24, and that adult users on average spend almost an hour on TikTok each day. It is also, along with Instagram and YouTube, one of the UK’s most popular news sources for teenagers.

But not only teenagers use it: half of the users in the US are over 25 years old. In short, it is extremely important for advertising and has the ability to create viral hits and stars instantly.

Why is it so addictive?

It is clear that the content is entertaining. But the design of the app also helps to be addictive. Interaction with TikTok is predominantly passive. Several solutions are required: a simple swipe of a finger is all it takes to view the next TikTok. According to investment analysts at Bernstein Research, TikTok has replaced “the friction of choosing what to watch” with “a sensory stream of bite-sized video…delivering an endorphin kick after watching.”

“Every swipe can bring something better,” writes The Washington Post, “but viewers don’t know when they will get it, so they keep swiping in anticipation of something they will never find.”

“After immersing themselves in a flow-like state, users may experience a distorted sense of time that leaves them unaware of how much time has passed,” said the Brown University researcher.

Should we be worried about TikTok?

As with other social networks, TikTok raises a lot of concerns. Its use has been associated with adverse health effects such as anxiety, depression, or poor sleep; it has also been accused of reducing users’ attention span.

TikTok’s sheer audience size and influence means that its content is a source of concern, from misinformation to obscenity to censorship: the system by which content is suppressed or promoted is opaque.

ByteDance is trying to dispel those fears by making more and more transparent how its algorithms work, an unusual move in an industry where the code is often top secret. But it doesn’t help that it’s run by a totalitarian state that leads the world in digital surveillance.

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