15 Seconds of Fame – How TikTok is changing the Internet

Nowadays, you are either a TikTok fan, a critic or confused about the hype.

TikTok is the most popular app on the planet right now. The short 15 to 60 second clips can turn you into an Internet sensation in only one night. Lip-syncing videos, one-act dance routines, 1-min recipes and challenges. Let’s try to understand this recent media phenomenon.

So, TikTok is an app for making and sharing short videos. The app started as a less popularly known “musical.ly” in 2014 but in 2016 it changed its name to TikTok. Now owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based Internet technology company, the app has reached over 2.6 billion downloads.

Especially during the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 the platform gained immense popularity. People all over the world suddenly needed a way to both entertain themselves and connect with others.

How TikTok adapts to your interests

You will mostly see content related to your interests. As soon as you open the app for the first time, they are testing you by populating your feed with all kinds of clips. If you like, comment or share a video, the algorithm remembers that and shows you similar content. Most of that is consumed in the main “For You” feed – a place where TikTok suggests you clips based on your individual interests.

“Part of the magic of TikTok is that there’s no single For You feed”, the social media homepage states. “While different people may come upon some of the same standout videos, each person’s feed is unique and tailored to that specific individual.”

Yet there is criticism that the “For You” page creates a bubble. You are only confronted with topics and viewpoints that you agree with. The feed might not be designed to encourage critical thinking.

Wasting time

Since the videos are so short you easily forget how much time you are spending. According to Business of Apps, users spend 52 minutes per day on the platform, opening the app 8 times a day.

Why it’s so easy to gain followers

Many creators prefer the platform to YouTube because it’s easier to gain followers there. It took YouTube’s main face PewDiPie over 9 years to pass the 100 million-subscriber mark. TikTok’s most successful creator Charli D’Amelio reached 100 million subscribers after 18 months of joining.

At the same time creating the short clips requires much less time than uploading YouTube videos. Gaining popularity on YouTube demands high quality videos at least in tone, camera and editing.

However, all you need for a TikTok account is a smartphone. On there you have the music and the filters. There is no high-quality standard for the quick and light entertainment.

TikToks most famous face

American teenager Charlie D’Amelio is only 17 years but already the most-followed creator.  The young girl from Connecticut, who was a competitive dancer for over 10 years, earns her living with short dance clips. Recently she landed a Hulu Reality Show. She became a teenage household name overnight – before uploading her short dance clips for fun she was a normal high school student. She has expressed confusion regarding her rise to popularity. In an interview with Variety, she said, “I consider myself a normal teenager that a lot of people watch, for some reason. It doesn’t make sense in my head, but I’m working on understanding it.”

Gen Z’s favorite platform

While TikTok is attracting every age group, Gen Z is clearly the most dominant target group on the platform. According to Wallaroo Media, 60 % of users belong to Gen Z – a group who never knew life before complete self-digitization.

Gen Z who was born between 1997 and 2015 regards the platform as a place to authentically express themselves. The platform became a core way for them to express its own ethos, aesthetics and attitudes. It is also a place of activism where the young generation is loud about racism, sexism, homophobia and climate change.

The Covid-19 pandemic was essential for the rise of the platform. For many youngsters, the polished life of Instagram influencers is less alluring during a pandemic.

On the app people are sharing relationship advice, experiences with mental illness and yes, even their traumas. “We feel so comfortable in our bubble that we forget everybody has access to our profile and our personal stories.” a viral TikTok clip suggests.

The future of social media

Even though critics diminish the app as a short-lived trend, it is becoming evident that TikTok is changing the way we consume media. We are looking for more authenticity and we want to leave social media feeling better than before. TikTok saw that need. Who else will?

Clarissa Leute

New York Times – How TikTok is rewriting the world
The Washington Post – Charli D’Amelio is TikTok’s biggest star. She has no idea why
Forbes – What The Rise Of TikTok Says About Generation Z
Wired – TikTok Finally Explains How the ‘For You’ Algorithm Works

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