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TikTok: The App of a Generation

Lucy Cooper explains why TikTok is the most important social media of our time

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One morning a few weeks ago, I woke up to “99+ TikTok notifications”. In the space of a few hours, I had received 4k views on one of my videos. By the end of that day I was on 20k, and it currently sits on 145k.

This is fame, and Tiktok has gifted it to me.

Tiktok is a social media app like no other. The ‘For You Page’ is so personalised you could go hours before seeing the same video as your sibling sitting next to you. It’s brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘viral’, as videos made in a teenagers’ rooms - in a few minutes- can be showcased on millions of phone screens.

This is not just a lockdown boredom cure. Tiktok is changing the face of social media and culture forever.

There are very few apps that captivate such a large and diverse audience; 12 year olds and 22 year olds alike are obsessed. Unlike other platforms which usually require an existing following to get a popular reaction, it’s simple and easy to access the 800 million active TikTok users - and anyone can get a viral video.

For those who are unfamiliar with the app (where have you been?), it’s a continual stream of videos under 1 minute - covering almost every type of content you can imagine - from Fifa to frogs. Users can like, comment and share the videos, and with each interaction the algorithm continues to work out which other videos you might like.

This is exactly the quality that makes TikTok such a unique and iconic premise. The personalised feed helps create associations of people with common interests. This is the reason that the app is so successful for so many groups of people - for every video you watch, there exists whole sections of TikTok you will never stumble across. I am thankful to announce that Charli d’Amelio- with over 65 million followers and 4.5 billion likes- has never once appeared on my ‘For You Page’.

The importance of these created communities cannot be underestimated. Whether that be other skateboarders trying to learn new tricks, or teenage girls trying to redecorate their rooms- the content will find the viewer. This has proved particularly important for groups like the LGBTQ+ community, who can see themselves reflected in videos without having to go searching for it. You can feel surrounded by people similar to you. For members who might not yet have come out, this can be a freeing and important step to accepting who they are- especially helped by the opportunity of anonymity; in comparison to other social media like Twitter or Facebook, where your interactions are broadcast on your followers’ pages.

Not only can TikTok exemplify its influence over social issues, but political ones too. Just this weekend, Tiktok users (alongside K-Pop fans) claimed influence over Donald Trump’s poorly attended rally in Tulsa. After a TikTok went viral urging people to register for seats with no intention of going, the 19,000 capacity arena barely filled. Users were able to share the message quickly and quietly- with many deleting their videos after a day, in order to stop the wider internet finding out. This is a prime example of the influence TikTok can have, and the ability it has to platform young voices.

The extensive reach and diversity of TikTok is not only perfect for lockdown boredom, but it unlocks unique opportunities. Small businesses have been able to thrive, with videos of cakemakers decorating their creations, or artists showing off the process of their paintings going viral. Apps and websites can be thrust into the limelight, just by a teenager showing off how cool they are in their videos. It is clear, as more conventional brands rush to try and create successful TikTok accounts, that it heralds a new idea of advertising- one which is more natural, unplanned and shows an aesthetic or entertaining view of the product or service. TikTok exemplifies the growth of speed viewing and short attention spans- with every video under one minute, the creator needs to be snappy with their message; viewers tend to watch around 15 seconds of each video.

This speed symbolises the rise of quick fame. There is no other social media where you can get such exposure, and gain thousands of views, whilst still having under 100 followers. Even commenting under other popular videos can give you this instant 5 seconds of fame- with some comments amassing 100,000 likes.

The unique format of the For You Page means your video is sent to the feed of a small selection of strangers, and if it is received well, can continue to grow. The speed at which this can happen is phenomenal. At the beginning of lockdown, my brother posted a video that got over 500k views almost overnight, when he only had around 15 followers to start with.

With my own TikTok having amassed over 60k likes since the beginning of June, I suppose we now live in the Suffolk version of the Hype House.

These sudden trends have an important impact on our culture. Music truly goes ‘viral’. Looking at the current UK Top 10, almost all of them are common TikTok tracks. The app has sprung many artists to new heights of fame. Even if we might only know the words to 15 seconds of the songs, this hasn’t stopped them infiltrating the typically exclusive popular music scene. Potentially the most famous of these new discoveries is Lil Nas X, whose song ‘Old Town Road’ went viral on TikTok before it became the longest running number 1 on Billboard Hot 100. The music industry will be forever changed by the impact of TikTok- and the simply huge audience it creates. We will be seeing more and more of our popular songs coming from TikTok stars who can get their songs heard by millions overnight. In fact, the very moment I type this, a song has come up on my Spotify playlist from a TikTok singer I followed a few months ago.

Tiktok music is here to stay.

Tiktok is a truly unique social media. The very fact that my videos (where I talk about ‘fun cheese facts’ thanks to my job behind a deli) have become viral, shows that anything can capture the interest of certain groups of people. However, it still lies open to the age old problems that come with strangers being able to hide behind a screen. Although my hate has been fairly tame, I have had to deal with plenty of comments discussing my appearance and making fun of how I speak or act. Although I am not particularly offended by the people suggesting I look like Perfect Peter, or asking if I “even have a top lip at all”- it highlights the fact that there is a habit on TikTok for people to comment without realising that the video makers may well see it. The personal and intimate aspect of the app, where the creator has such a close relationship with their viewers- something that makes it so special- can also lead to TikTok’s problems. However, as long as we have social media, we will continue to deal with online hate. The positive energy of TikTok continues to outweigh the bad vibes.

It is clear that TikTok has hugely influenced what media we consume, and how we consume it. Whether it continues to stay as popular as it is under lockdown, we should still recognise the important role it has played for helping swathes of users deal with the boredom and potential isolation of lockdown. It has rewritten the rulebook for sharing videos online, and gives anybody the chance to have 100,000 people see them crouching behind a deli talking about Kaltbach cheese.

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