Videos and images can speak a universal language, as Instagram has been showing us for some years now, made up of many visual elements and few words. This is even truer today among the very young, so much so that their propensity to prefer “to show” to the classic phrase or quote, typical of Facebook, has led to the rapid worldwide spread of a new social media that is depopulating precisely among thirteen-year-olds and which is called TikTok.
What is it about? What are the reasons for this sudden explosion?
Let’s go get some clarity.
The app was born in Beijing in 2016, from an intuition of the Chinese company ByteDance which in 2017 purchased another almost similar app (Musical.ly), taking its strengths and thus achieving rapid success.
Musical.ly was launched in 2014 (based in Shanghai and office in Santa Monica) as an app capable of giving users the opportunity to create videos by choosing audio tracks to accompany them, also using different speeds, as well as filters and various effects . And it is from these characteristics that TikTok starts: the app offers videos between 15 and 60 seconds with a musical background that mainly features young girls who sing in playback and make dance moves, even if sometimes men and women appear more “mature”.
The numbers are staggering. According to the most recent reports (Digiday), here are some data concerning this app which is now a reality of the social panorama:
- In February 2019, TikTok said it had 26.5 million monthly active users in the U.S., 60% of whom are between 16-24 years old.
- Users also open the app eight times a day, spending an average of 46 minutes a day.
- In June 2019 ByteDance reported having over a billion active users on all its apps, where TikTok takes the biggest share.
- In September 2019, TikTok was the most downloaded “non-gaming” app in the world, with more than 60 million installations (Sensor Tower data).
- France and Germany are the European countries with the largest number of users (more than 4 million), while in Italy it has more than 2.5 million active users per month.
THE REASONS FOR SUCCESS
Given the rapid and widespread diffusion, it is more than natural to ask how this app has managed to be so successful worldwide in such a short time.
The first characteristic element are the hashtags, which play a real and functional organizational role here, identifying various #challenge, that is, challenges that are repeated and that are taken by users, increasing the virality of the phenomenon.
Another important aspect are the tools available to edit videos, such as filters, transitions, special effects and sound that open the doors to users’ creativity. All in a matter of seconds.
Another element apparently of little importance but which is actually fundamental is its simplicity. TikTok has found a solution to the fateful question “how do I immediately involve people?”. In fact, it immediately shows a series of random videos and thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI) it stores preferences, then sends daily notifications and quickly expands the audience.
Finally, the app has been able to take advantage of the corridor of fast videos, currently little attended by Facebook and other social networks. The latter are trying to close the gap: Facebook in November 2018 launched “Lasso”, a clone app by TikTok; Vine, one of the first platforms for video sharing, is testing a new video-loop app called “Byte”; and finally Snapchat is adding features to its platform, which mimic those of TikTok as well as others.
THE “DARK SIDE” OF TikTok
All that glitters is not gold. The rapid and uncontrolled diffusion of TikTok has led to accepting even very young users, sometimes 10 years or a little more, present on the platform in a more or less explicit way.
This led to a February 2019 ruling with which the U.S. Federal Trade Commission ruled that TikTok will have to pay a $ 5.7 million fine for data collection for children under the age of 13 without having consent from of parents.
Control is therefore very difficult, but it is the company itself that reiterates that the reference target is that of 18-25 years and that it is mandatory to be over 13 years old to register. In this sense, the company has decided to equip the platform with algorithms responsible for identifying inappropriate content, however alongside the computers the work of thousands of “human” supervisors who have the last word on what is published.
When it comes to minors, however, one aspect is absolutely evident, for TitkTok as for any other social: the need for an open and direct dialogue of parents with their children, because although the limits are there, it is important to enforce them and for this sometimes artificial intelligence is not enough (yet).