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“TikTok is a unique blend of social media platforms, which is why kids love it so much,” concluded Kevin Munger, assistant professor of political science and social data analysis at Pennsylvania State University. The scientist writes in an article for The Conversation, translated by Realnoe Vremya, in more detail about his research on this year’s most popular application among young people, as well as how it turned into a tool for “political football”.
Tool for playing “political football”
TikTok is a social media platform aimed at young mobile phone users. The platform that was the second most visited app in the world in 2019. TikTok also became the most downloaded app in July 2020.
The app became the reason for playing “political football”. Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok was banned in India along with 58 other Chinese apps in July in response to escalating border tensions between the two countries. The Trump administration has issued a decree banning TikTok and the Chinese messaging platform WeChat from participating in transactions in the United States starting September 15. In response to the ban, the company sued the Trump administration in August.
As a social media political scientist, I’ve researched what makes TikTok unique and why young audiences flock to it. In short, the app allows users to record themselves dancing or fooling around to music, and then modify the video using a wide variety of effects. Despite its seemingly frivolous focus, young people use the platform to send political messages, coordinate political action, and communicate in a largely adult-free online space.
The Trump administration has issued a decree prohibiting TikTok and the Chinese messaging platform WeChat from participating in transactions in the United States.
How it works
Each “Tiktok” is a looped video from 3 to 60 seconds long. Most of the screen is occupied by the video uploaded by the user. The app offers a wide range of options for customizing and combining these videos, including videos captured from the user’s smartphone, photos downloaded from the Internet, emoticons and other text overlaid on the video, and special effects. The app’s library of filters and complementary video effects is similar to Instagram photo filters.
The lower part of the screen contains information about “sound”, the audio file accompanying the video. These “sounds” can either be loaded by the user or selected from a library of popular sounds. This library contains both fragments of songs from professional musicians and recordings of stupid conversations of people. The Sounds have had a huge impact on the music industry as well, for example Old Town Road, one o
When you open the app, you see the tiktok video playing. This is the For You page that launches tiktok videos in order of recommendation by the TikTok algorithm. Swipe up to go to the next tiktok video. To see the account that downloaded the current tiktok – swipe right.
Like Snapchat and Instagram, tiktok videos can only be created on mobile phones.
How in comparison
Comparing TikTok to other digital media platforms shows what makes it unique. Like YouTube, TikTok is entirely video. Like Facebook and Twitter, the primary way to consume tiktok content is to navigate the feed with short, easily digestible posts.
As with Netflix, the default search algorithm uses a recommendation algorithm rather than building networks of “tiktok fans” or “tiktok followers”. And like Snapchat and Instagram, tiktok videos can only be created on mobile phones, which are preferred by younger users because they have more freedom to own smartphones than computers.
TikTok is the first social media platform to combine these characteristics. The result is a unique way of transmitting and consuming information.
Information flow density
The combination of video and feed makes TikTok particularly informative. Every tiktok video has a lot of fun happening and the tiktok video stream is endless.
Unlike text, video media works on two parallel channels, transmitting explicit information (that contained in speech or writing) and implicit information (social signals such as clothes and a Tiktoker’s hair or the emotional effect of music) at the same time.
“Feed” allows the consumer of social networks to view several small snippets of content per minute, extracting information in a much more efficient way than, for example, from a television broadcast.and. Combined, these trends make For You scrolling a significant advance in information density.
If you spend a few hours on TikTok, you’ll see for yourself how it works. Other media are starting to seem slower, and even previously attractive products like YouTube videos or Twitter feeds. Young people tend to love intensity: loud music, bright lights. And it’s no surprise that they find TikTok attractive.
Because TikTok is designed for smartphones, it is easier for some people to use and more difficult for others.
Costs and Benefits
TikTok also shifts the usual boundaries of the costs and benefits of posting. On the one hand, since TikTok is designed for smartphones, it is easier for some people to use and more difficult for others. Typically, the more years of your life you spend using a technology, and the earlier in the life cycle that experience is acquired, the more skilled you become in using that technology.
TikTok also encourages videos shot in the portrait orientation found in smartphones, so they can be created wherever the user is when they have a minute to spare.
In terms of advantages, it is important to note the recommendation algorithm compared to networks built on “tiktok fans“, which means that everyone is guaranteed to get at least a few views, even on their first tiktok video. On Twitter, let’s say you can log in and tweet dozens of times before you get tiktok likes because of the importance of the “follow” relationship in determining what people see.
The TikTok “For You” page is composed of impressions to the user of extremely popular tiktok videos and videos with fewer views, which contributes to greater equality than on traditional social media. Overall, TikTok offers an online platform for young people who feel disconnected from the adult world, and here they are sure to get some attention.
Sounds represent a new way to categorize and navigate the social media platform.
Same sounds, different movements
Finally, the “sounds” that users combine with their personalized videos represent a new way to categorize and navigate the social media platform – a unique feature of TikTok. If you click on the sound button at the bottom of a tiktok video, you will see all other tiktok videos that use that sound file.
The most common example is a specific dance program accompanied by a specific “sound”. “Sound” is constantly present in this group of tiktok videos, but each user presents a unique video about himself in which he dances.
Dancing is a relative of memes on TikTok. “Memes” on predominantly text or graphics platforms include some fixed “meme format” that is then remixed by users who edit the image or text to create a given “meme”. On TikTok, however, the remix is based on the user’s body as the user takes actions related to the meme format, what I call “embodied memes.”
This makes the body much more visible on TikTok than on other platforms. While clever puns come a long way on Twitter, TikTok rewards traditionally attractive or otherwise striking bodies even more than Instagram.
It also means that identity categories, which are increasingly central to politics, play an important role in TikTok. Embodied memes often play with the Tiktoker’s race, gender, physical appearance, or location.
More traditional image memes can appear anonymous or incorporeal as they spread across the internet. On TikTok, it’s impossible to separate a person from a meme.