TikTok, a name we are all very familiar with. It’s one of the fastest growing social media platforms in the world, and even though it is fairly new, the statistics are crazy. It has more than 689 million active users worldwide, and it’s already been downloaded more than 2 billion times! It is available in 150 countries and in 75 different languages, making it a competitive rival to other giants like Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. But how exactly did it emerge so quickly and why is it so popular? Furthermore, what are the consequences for our society?
What is TikTok?
For those of you that have managed to escape the TikTok-craze and don’t know what the hype is all about, here’s a quick explanation. TikTok is a social media app that enables users to create, watch and share 15-second videos. The content can be about a wide range of topics, and the videos cover everything from comedy and lip syncs to useful tips and tricks. Whether you’re a professional content creator or someone who has no technical knowledge, you can create a fun and engaging video without effort. You can also add many effects like filters, stickers and background music.
The founder and creator of TikTok is the 38-year-old Chinese Zhang Yiming. He is a software engineer and a billionaire internet-entrepreneur. In 2012, he found a company named ByteDance and launched an online news service involving Artificial Intelligence. A couple of years later he released both TikTok and the Chinese version Douyin. That same year, he bought the social video app Musical.ly, which already had a following of 200 million users worldwide. The company then combined both apps into one single application, using Musical.ly’s product innovation and TikTok’s monetization track record.
The powerful AI of the app has contributed a lot to its successes. Thanks to the algorithms, the app doesn’t merely recommend but completely decides which videos the user sees. It shows certain content to the user based on their viewing habits and likes, and the app learns the users’ preferences the more they use it. In this way, TikTok is different from Netflix, Instagram and YouTube. Those platforms use AI to recommend content rather than send feeds to users directly.
A Golden Formula
Clearly, TikTok has a concept that works. However, they didn’t invent it. Do you remember a certain 6 second video app called Vine? Stars like Shawn Mendes became famous through those 6 second videos, and like TikTok, the app completely blew up. Only three years after its launch, it had over 200 million users. Twitter shut it down in 2016, the same year TikTok was launched. Musical.ly was another very popular video app with a similar concept, and it formed the base of TikTok.
TikTok knows such big successes thanks to the brilliantly played game by its parent company Bytedance, but not only because of that. The app provides a new and safe space for teenagers bored by Instagram and Facebook. It’s something different yet familiar too, and since most TikTok users belong to GenZ, no parent will see what their kids do. The meme culture has exploded once again, and every day there’s something new to discover. Like the latest trends or challenges, and new songs or dances too. Music is the common thread throughout the app and pieces it all together. The love for music is big and when you scroll through the videos, the accompanying music makes it so much more enjoyable.
A last, but key element to the app’s success: it’s addictive. USC professor and author Dr. Julie Albright says that when you are on these social media platforms, you are basically drugging yourself. When you see a photo or video that you like, you’ll get a little dopamine hit in the center of your brain.
“You’ll just be in this pleasurable dopamine state, carried away. It’s almost hypnotic, you’ll keep watching and watching.” – Dr. Julie Albright
You will keep scrolling and scrolling, because sometimes you see something that you like, and sometimes you don’t. It’s that differentiation that makes us keep watching, because we want to keep seeing content that we like. All social media platforms are based on that principle, in psychological terms called random reinforcement. It means that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. It works like a slot machine, and it’s what makes gambling so addictive. Meaning that like with a gambling addiction, you can have a social media addiction. Only we barely realize this.
The Consequential Problem
One of its consequences is that our attention spans are lowering. This doesn’t only have an impact on young brains that are still developing, but on all our brains. Because of these interactions with digital technologies, our brains are changing. And time compression is one of those ways. That’s another big reason why TikTok is so popular: it’s videos are only 15 seconds long, so for our short attention spans, that’s just perfect. Try watching a movie made in the ‘60s or ‘70s, and soon you’ll realize that the world of today is built upon short and dramatic, rather than slow and subtle.
Good vs Bad
Like with all social media platforms, there are many good things and many bad things to it. Maybe we should be alarmed by the fact that each TikTok user spends on average 50 minutes a day in the app, watching video after video. But some might argue that time is well spent, since those videos aren’t only highly entertaining but educational too. The platform connects young people from all over the world and thanks to that, the world has become smaller. Millennials now consider themselves to be citizens of the world, which could have positive impacts on global conflicts in the future. The rise of TikTok has already impacted the society of today, and only time will tell how it will influence us in the future.
Liked our article on TikTok ? Also read, TikTok Controversy Explained: Is Ban Really the Solution?