What is TikTok? Social Media Trends Your Teen Could Be Following

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The two questions that parents ask most about TikTok social media are: What is Tiktok and is it safe? TikTok is a newer social media platform—it was launched internationally in 2017. So parents are still trying to get up to speed on what their teens are actually doing on the app.

TikTok is all about sharing videos. It provides filters, music, special effects, and animation tools to help users create 15-second videos. Then they can share their videos on the platform, and other users can like them and comment on them. The app can be used on both Apple and Android smartphones and other devices.

Who Is On TikTok Social Media?

TikTok is the fastest-growing social media app, available across 150 markets globally and in 75 different languages. The original TikTok was named to represent the sound of a ticking clock. The app was created in China in 2016 and owned by the Beijing tech company ByteDance. In 2017, ByteDance purchased the lip-syncing app Musical.ly and combined the two apps under the name TikTok.

The rebranded TikTok was launched in 2018. By late 2019, more than 1.5 billion people had downloaded it, making it the third most-downloaded app of the year. Here’s a look at who is on TikTok social media and how often they use it.

TikTok users are officially supposed to be at least 13 years old. However, it’s not difficult to find a way around the age-verification process. Therefore, there are quite a few tweens on TikTok social media as well as teens.

TikTok has created its own celebrities, who become famous when their videos go viral. Some users have more than 100,000 followers—even as many as 10 million. Lil Nas X became a star after releasing his song “Old Country Road” on TikTok. A pair of identical twins from Germany, Lisa and Lena, used the app to launch their own clothing line after their account became the most popular on TikTok.

What Teens Do on TikTok Social Media

Because it’s associated with Musical.ly, people often think TikTok is an app for lip-syncing or karaoke. But it is more like Vine, a video app created by Twitter and then shut down in 2016. (Vine’s creator launched a new version, Byte, in early 2020.) TikTok users create 15-second videos using the app’s editing and special effects tools, such as filters. They can string the short videos together to create longer ones of up to one minute long.

The videos typically reference Gen Z pop culture, like video games and memes. (Memes are ideas, images, or activities that are copied, with small variations, and spread online via social media.) Teens can share videos of themselves and their friends dancing, singing, skateboarding, performing gymnastics, doing comedy routines, or conducting science experiments. If they like a video, they can create their own version using the same music. Or they can select music and other sounds from TikTok’s library of clips, or use their own recordings. They can create “duets” by copying videos and adding their own video beside the original. They can even record themselves reacting to another user’s video and then share that reaction.

Teenagers also engage in TikTok challenges on the app. They can click on hashtags to find various challenges that are trending. For example, #purpleshampoo will lead you to a series of dozens of videos of users trying a purple shampoo. Or users might post videos of themselves dancing to a new pop song, putting on or taking off makeup, pretending to have special powers, or rolling on the ground like a tumbleweed. (The#tumbleweedchallenge was launched by talk show host Jimmy Fallon.)

How to Use TikTok

Here are a few basics about how to use TikTok.

  • Videos are vertically oriented, and users scroll up and down rather than side to side.
  • Clicking on the home button in the bottom left corner brings up a new video.
  • Instead of likes, as on Facebook, viewers use hearts to show approval.
  • Users can watch featured videos or choose videos by people they’re following, or by anyone else on the app.
  • Using the magnifying glass icon next to the home icon, users can search keywords and hashtags.
  • Tapping on the screen will pause a video. Then you can see the number of hearts it got, and the profile of the person who created it.
  • Users can caption their videos. Captions may include their name, the name of the song in the video, and a hashtag. To see more videos using a particular song, you can click on the name of the song.
  • To post your own video, click on the plus sign at the bottom of the home screen.

TikTok social media uses artificial intelligence to learn what kinds of videos each user wants to see, by tracking and analyzing their choices. Consequently, it is able to curate content to appeal to individual’s interests and preferences.

The Positives of TikTok Social Media

One New York Times writer called TikTok “the only truly pleasant social network in existence.” In part, that’s because TikTok can inspire creativity and community. Teens get together with friends to make videos, or share their own style and creations. Moreover, many of the videos are lighthearted and funny.

Furthermore, there are no display ads or news on TikTok, so teens aren’t exposed to scary events or to constant marketing. (Some brands, such as Hollister and Kool-Aid, work with TikTok influencers to create viral campaigns.)

However, TikTok has many of the negative factors of digital media, like social media addiction, less time spent outdoors in nature, and fewer face-to-face interactions.

Is TikTok Safe for Kids?

Is TikTok safe for teens? There are a few areas of concern regarding whether TikTok is safe for kids or not.

  • Inappropriate contact with strange adults: This a common concern regarding many social media platforms. On TikTok, it’s easier for people you don’t know to view your content than on sites where you see only posts from friends.
  • Cyberbullying: There have been some reports of teenagers bullying or harassing on TikTok, via the comments that users can leave on others’ videos.
  • Exposure to disturbing content: TikTok teens may be exposed to videos with violent or sexual content, or videos depicting self-harm. In addition, some of the popular music used on the app contains profanity and sexually explicit lyrics.

To protect teenagers against inappropriate contact with other users and disturbing content, parents can make sure that teenagers set their TikTok accounts to private. Hence, only people they approve can follow them, comment on their videos, or post hearts on their videos.

In addition, parents can turn off all commenting in their teen’s account, hide the account from the search function, block messages, and prevent other users from posting reactions to their videos. Furthermore, TikTok allows users to filter out spam, certain keywords, and negative comments, and block other users’ accounts. Finally, if parents aren’t comfortable with their kids posting videos, teens can watch others’ videos without creating an account. TikTok says it will add additional safety measures in 2020.

Most important, parents can pay close attention to how much time their teen spends on TikTok social media, and keep an eye on what they’re watching and posting.


Featured Image by Martin Lopez from Pexels