Aishwarya Ramesh
Digital

A Dummy's Guide to TikTok

What is TikTok and why was it banned?

In the 21st century, the words tick-tock aren't all about clocks anymore. TikTok is an app owned by Chinese company ByteDance. ByteDance has owned TikTok since 2014 and in 2017, it acquired TikTok's competitor - Musical.ly. Musical.ly and TikTok were two very similar apps - both allowed users to create and edit short format videos and share it on the platform. Once the acquisition was complete, ByteDance rebranded Musical.ly to TikTok in 2018. Existing users of Musical.ly were all migrated to the new and rebranded TikTok. In China, TikTok is called 'Douyin'.

A Dummy's Guide to TikTok

Dubsmash, another app in this space, is a competitor. Released in 2014, the app claimed to be the first to allow users to take 'video selfies.' Users could lip-sync to songs, movie dialogues or quotes. Globally, TikTok has around 500 million active users (CNBC report). This makes TikTok a direct competitor to Snapchat and Twitter. For context, Twitter has 326 million active users and Snapchat announced that they have 186 million daily active users in the third quarter.

But what do people do on TikTok? Why is it so popular?

Simply put, TikTok is popular because it's versatile. TikTok videos span across genres. Video themes vary from dance to lip-syncing, cute pets, dancing, comedy sketches or overall internet randomness. What sets TikTok apart from the other apps in this space (karaoke video app - Smule and lip-sync video app - Dubsmash) is how users can edit videos, add sound effects and access a vast library of clips of popular songs to use as background music. Users don't need to be overly skilled to use any of TikTok features (unlike using Adobe's Premiere Pro editing software which can take years to master), they just need to have a smartphone and be creative.

Who uses TikTok?

Most TikTok users are below 24 years. The app has a minimum age requirement of 13 to become a member, but there have been cases of children as young as nine creating fake accounts on the platform.

TikTok is available for members in 157 different countries. India alone has over 20 million active users, as of January 2019.

Why has TikTok been in the news?

TikTok has been in the news because the Madras High Court recently banned it. The High Court's order had the app taken down from Google's Play Store and Apple's app store. The ban was lifted shortly after, but the app is not yet available for download.

A Reuters report pegged the financial losses, that parent company ByteDance incurred as a result of the ban, at $500,000 a day, putting more than 250 jobs at risk.

This is not the first time that TikTok has been banned...

In 2018, TikTok was banned in Indonesia because their Ministry of Communication and Information Technology found that the platform contained negative videos that were a bad influence on youth.

A few days later, the ban was overturned after TikTok agreed to clear all the negative content from the app and increase security mechanisms to protect their members, Reuters reported.

TikTok, as a community, has used its reach on social channels to talk about aspects of safety related to the app. The social media posts were mostly educational - about internet safety - and urged users to block content that made them uncomfortable.

Is inappropriate content the only issue that TikTok users need to deal with?

Inappropriate content such as pornography isn't the only problem that TikTok has had on its platform. It comes with a 'Duet' feature that allows other users to create a side-by-side video as a reaction to existing content. Users have been at the receiving end of abuse and death threats because this feature allowed others to react to existing videos with those of themselves performing violent actions such as hanging themselves or drinking bleach.

TikTok influencers have also reported instances of cyber-bullying and hate speech and an investigation by the BBC also revealed that the app failed to suspend the accounts of users who sent younger users sexual or violent messages.

Wait... who is a TikTok influencer?

Anyone who goes viral with their videos on TikTok can be a TikTok influencer. A video can go viral when a user participates in hashtag challenges that have specific themes. Most TikTok influencers have millions of followers and as a result of their reach, they have a similar number of followers on other platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.

What's in it for brands to use TikTok?

TikTok allows for paid content on the platform as well, in addition to tie-ups they've had with brands for specific campaigns, in the past. For example, promotions for the movie Gully Boy tied up with the app - both Alia and Ranveer urged users to download the TikTok app.

In January, a Twitter user spotted an ad for GrubHub, a food delivery service based out of the United States.

Further, lifestyle brand Guess also ran a campaign on the platform titled #InMyDenim. They tied up with influencers - OurFire, Madison Willow, Cammy, and CJ Operamericano - to create a hashtag challenge marking the official launch of TikTok's brand partnerships.