Everything you need to know about TikTok

Caroline Lobel, Editor in Chief

Whether you’re someone who has had TikTok downloaded since day one, has never heard of the app or are simply interested in learning more about what it is, you’ve come to the right place. TikTok is a fairly new social media platform created by ByteDance, a Beijing-based tech company, that allows users to upload videos up to a minute long. 

ByteDance purchased the popular Musical.ly app — known for its lip-syncing videos — in 2017 and merged it with TikTok in Aug. 2018. All of Musical.ly’s users transferred over to TikTok once the two platforms combined, which means there’s a good chance you’ll find your old Musical.ly account on TikTok. 

After combining with Musical.ly, TikTok started to gain traction. Throughout the 18-19 school year, many students made fun of TikTok for containing “cringe-worthy” content despite not using the app. However, by Nov. 2019, TikTok amassed 1.5 billion downloads worldwide since the app’s initial release in Sept. 2016. To contextualize TikTok’s rapid growth, Instagram, for example, reached one billion users worldwide in June 2018, eight years after its initial launch in Oct. 2010; it only took TikTok three years to surpass a similar milestone.

Video sharing apps aren’t anything new, but TikTok’s strong appeal to high schoolers and the rest of Gen Z is what makes the app so popular. In fact, 41% of TikTok’s users are between the ages of 16 and 24. 

The app itself is simple to use and contains minimal ads. Its interface consists of five tabs along the bottom of the screen, including the home page, which allows you to choose between viewing content only from creators you follow (Following) and content from any creator you may be interested in (For You). The For You page is endless and content appears in no particular order, allowing users to scroll through hours of mostly-entertaining videos that average around 15 seconds long. Every once in a while, an extremely well-made or funny video will appear.

The For You page isn’t completely random, as there is an algorithm that determines which types of content gets placed onto your feed. There are user speculations about how this algorithm works. Through machine learning, the algorithm places content with increasing engagement onto people’s For You pages. Many people caption their videos with trending hashtags so their videos can gain more interaction in order to reach more For You pages. 

There isn’t a clear purpose for the app. Many people use it to entertain themselves when they’re bored by scrolling through their For You page. Others use it to create content in hopes of making it onto the For You page so they can become “TikTok famous.” Many creators who are “TikTok famous” are in high school, such as 15-year-old Charli D’Amelio who gained 32 million followers in the past few months after a single video of her dancing went viral on the For You page. 

The content ranges from dances to point-of-view shots to dark humor to trick shots and more. Most of the content on the For You page is relevant to the app’s current trends, such as the types of videos that garner the most attention and are most entertaining to view. The app also includes audios to lay over your videos. The most commonly used sounds are songs people like to dance along to or lip-sync certain lyrics to get a message across. 

It’s hard to list the vast amount of content produced on TikTok, which is partly why the app has grown so much. TikTok was downloaded over 600 million times since the start of 2019 to November of the same year. Prior to summer 2019, many people disregarded TikTok, but once summer boredom hit, many students downloaded TikTok “as a joke” and quickly became addicted. What started as a small curiosity has grown into a favorite pastime for many users.

TikTok, to some extent, has become a new meme format. TikToks are being shared and reposted across multiple social media platforms just like traditional meme images are. Most of the videos that are shared are on the funnier and more relatable side of content produced. A lot of videos that go viral on TikTok get reposted on other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter. TikTok compilations are also uploaded on Youtube, similar to once-popular Vine compilations. 

TikTok has also changed the way pop music is shared. Before TikTok, artists were primarily discovered through radio, but now, trending songs on TikTok have brought fame to many. Doja Cat, for example, started with a popular song on TikTok: “Say So.” It wasn’t until after millions of videos using the song were published until radio stations started playing it too.

It’s undeniable that TikTok has made a place for itself in the vast world of social media. Other social media platforms such as Facebook have been unable to capture Gen Z’s attention like TikTok has, which is why well-known organizations are joining the app in hopes of connecting with today’s youth. 

The Washington Post, a reputable news outlet, has a TikTok account of their own run by video producer Dave Jorgenson. In an interview with CNN’s “Reliable Sources” podcast, Jorgenson said, “I sort of sought to reflect [the Post’s] humor on TikTok within all of our videos that we publish each day.” The Post’s presence has another effect on TikTok: exposing teens to a newsroom. In the era of “fake news,” it becomes increasingly imperative to educate today’s youth on the importance and power of journalism. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) joined TikTok on Feb. 28 to educate TikTok’s users about the growing coronavirus. TikTok also has a large community of doctors who try to reach out and educate people on various health topics. 

Ultimately, TikTok’s strong grasp on Gen Z users has paved the way for the app’s success.