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Time to talk TikTok

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 10 October 2019, 8:17 am

If you are over 25 years old, then it is quite likely you will not have heard of TikTok. It's a social network that enables people to post 15-second videos and its market is teenagers. And sure, these apps come and go, but what makes TikTok interesting is its size, rapid ascension, and concerning approach to censorship.

TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance who released a short video app called DouYin in China and then moved into the global market after buying Musical.ly, an app that enabled users to post videos of themselves lip syncing. In the past year it has grown bigger than Twitter and Snapchat, with a reported 500m+ downloads.

Aside from the fact that ByteDance is now reputedly worth $75 billion thanks to TikTok's success, the other sign of its success is the reaction from its rivals. Google is, according to the Wall Street Journal, looking at buying its competitor Firework, while Facebook is trying to imitate it through a new app called Lasso. Twitter, meanwhile, is probably kicking itself that it shut down Vine, which enabled six-second videos, about two years ago.

So, what should you know about TikTok, especially if you are a parent of a Tiktok using teen? Firstly, it's addictive, the average time spent is 52 mins a day, which is similar to time spent on Facebook and Instagram apparently, but what that means in terms of content is around 200 videos a day.

The videos are curated, as opposed to random videos taken of friends at parties or on walks or wherever it is people go to take videos that they share with the world. TikTok has been described as a social media 'X factor'. It features teenagers singing, dancing, carrying out skits and stunts. The biggest star launched on TikTok is Lil Nas X, whose song 'Old Town Road' was 'discovered' on the platform when a 15 second snippet of it was posted.

TikTok has an opaque algorithm that pushes some videos and not others. This means that followers aren't as important as they are on other channels. TikTok continually streams video after video, depending on what is trending, and what it thinks you will like. Like most social media networks, it struggles to ban pornography and some users have complained of grooming. It was temporarily banned in India in April for encouraging the spread of explicit content. Also, the US Federal Trade Commission fined it $5.7million for failing to seek parental consent before collecting data from under 13-year-olds.

There are 10,000 moderators sifting through the awful stuff so you and I (and our kids) don't have to, and their guidelines were leaked to The Guardian, which reported that material that the Chinese Government deemed offensive was banned. Which in effect means mention of topics such as Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence and possibly Hong Kong. There is also evidence that this censorship also extends to shutting down LGBTQ voices.

TikTok says those are old guidelines which have since been replaced, but they refused to share the new rules with the publication. It's hard to pinpoint though because TikTok doesn't let users know when their content is blocked, the short videos just seem to disappear. 


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