Since the early 2000s, pre-teens and teens have buzzed through social media apps as quickly as trends go by. Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook have been the most frequently tapped into, but in 2018, TikTok received more downloads than the latter three. The video-sharing app has stepped onto the social media scene and is making quite the impression — on impressionable people.
Formerly called music.ly, an app used to create amusing lip syncing videos, TikTok has evolved to be much more than a space for lip synching. It’s been dubbed as a “new Vine” because its short-form video content is similar to that of the social media app Vine that has been mourned by millennials since it was discontinued back in 2017.
TikTok emerged to fill the void. However, it is mostly Gen Z kids that are making use of the app, while many former Vine users are still very unfamiliar with TikTok content. And while the two seem quite alike on paper, their media presence is far different.
TikTok, on the clock
TikTok videos are 15 seconds, substantially longer than Vine’s six. These 15 seconds are often set to music, honoring the app’s lip-syncing roots. TikTok users are on the clock to create something funny, instructional or absurd in 15 seconds that leaves a mark.
An attractive aspect of the app is that it allows users to collaborate with each other. Users and their friends can make their videos together, adding another social feature to the app that Vine didn’t offer. The app’s user base, 50% of which being between the ages of 13-24, have created makeup application videos, adventurous challenges like these and self-deprecating skits about social awkwardness, mental health, etc. set to music.
The controversy of the app is not garnered by the content itself, but by its responses. Videos that have “sexual” content aka dancing or lip-synching to suggestive music tends to get more circulation on trending pages. These videos can be seen by anyone on the app if a user’s account is public. Teens have reported unsolicited messaging being called “hot,” “baby” and encouraged to produce more of such content.
Teen female users have found comments in response to their makeup, dancing, or lip-synching TikTok videos to be hypersexual and inappropriate, exploiting their sexuality despite being underage.
Luckily, in July of this year, TikTok responded to some of the controversy by adding several features aimed to increase safety on the app. For instance, users can now set their videos to “private” and only receive private messages from TikTok friends (mutual followers).
However, even maintaining a private account won’t necessarily change what your teen is consuming. An article titled “Porn is not the Worst Thing on Music.ly” was published in March by a writer and a parent, discussing disturbing videos that circulate under hashtags like “#selfharm,” “#cutter,” and “#anorexic.”
Among the changes implemented in July, parental controls such as notification banners on inappropriate videos can now be set in place. This is a feature to keep in mind for negative videos that glorify mental illness.
Is TikTok “for you”?
Although social media started as a means of connection, other apps have skyrocketed because of the instant gratification, whether that’s in hearts, likes, thumbs up, retweets, or shares. TikTok is no exception. On the upper right of the screen, users will see “share,” “comment,” and “heart” options.
So how do users generate all these likes and comments on TikTok? Like other user-generated platforms like Instagram and Twitter, Tik Tok uses an algorithm that determines what users see in order to keep em’ coming. This is what the app’s “for you” page is — a page for all users with a public account to see what’s popular.
Unlike Instagram and Twitter, however, the page isn’t filled with content connected to other accounts you follow. It’s merely a collection of trending videos. In fact, one study found that less than 25% of users had ever clicked on their followers’ feeds, a very different dynamic than platforms like Instagram or Facebook, where the majority of your feed is your followers’ content.
Therefore, anyone with a public account risks their content being seen by complete strangers far more than on other apps. The more concerning aspect is that the trending videos are often underage girls lip-synching to popular music or dancing in their bedrooms. The truth about popular music these days (and arguably, all days) is that it’s hypersexualized. So again, it’s crucial that parents make sure Tik Tok accounts for girls are set to “private.”