This article will be focusing specifically on the media platform that is known as Tik Tok.
The Journal of the American Medical Association has produced a study where they concluded that, “increased time spent on social media may be a risk factor for internalizing problems in adolescents” (Anderson). However, Tik Tok is also a platform that can inspire social movements, as well as grow an entrepreneurial base. It is important to look at Tik Tok’s relationship to our culture in that it is a culmination of previous digital platforms, all of which reinforced power dynamics, through digital activism, as well as digital oppression.
Before looking at the creation of Tik Tok, we first must acknowledge content creation platforms as a predecessor to the app. With the emergence of the Internet, and the advent of sites like Youtube and Facebook, the early 2000s were marked by the digital content creation available to the public. This created a way for people to express themselves online through video. Vine was a short 7 second content creation app, which is very similar to Tik Tok, but was primarily used for comedy. Tik Tok was formed out of several different content creation apps. Starting with an app called Musical.ly, released in 2014. Musical.ly was a lip-sync app where users could sing along to short clips of music. Musical.ly was bought by the company, ByteDance Ltd, the parent company of Tik Tok (Liza). ByteDance also had a similar app called Douyin, available in most Asian countries. Eventually in 2018, ByteDance took Musical.ly’s software and combined it with Douyin, and rebranded the creation as Tik Tok (Tidy). All of these foundational apps such as Musical.ly that eventually became Tik Tok, were created by Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang in Shanghai, China and Douyin by Zhang Yiming.
Tik Tok was thrust into the political climate after accusations from world governments claiming that the app was collecting surveillance data of its users for Chinese spying. This dystopian discourse was reinforced by our own former president, Donald J. Trump, claiming that Tik Tok, “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information” (Kelly). This followed a massive outcry of conservatives and liberals over the app, as it soon became a political pundit during the election year of 2020. This came after there was a Tik Tok movement to fake attendance at Trump’s June 20th Tulsa rally. Trump’s team expected hundreds of thousands of attendants, when only a few hundred showed. Tik tok’s rebuttal was that they have strived to maintain a good relationship with world governments, specifically the United States, and that they would pursue legal action (Kelly). This is a clear example of just how powerful the company has become. Its influence has reached presidential levels, in that it can spark a governmental action.
Part of what makes Tik Tok so popular and addictive is the algorithm. Which, argued by Safiya Noble, “often reflect our lowest and most demeaning beliefs, because these ideas circulate so freely and so often that they are normalized and extremely profitable” (Noble, 37). While most “for you pages” display funny, comedic videos, there is an ongoing discussion on the app over racial discrimination, and misogynism. As author Kiddest Sinke explains, the forgive and forget mentality of Tik Tok creates an atmosphere of “passive consumption” and a “passive concept of racial justice” (Sinke). For example, the issue regarding dance challenges and credits tie directly into racial discourse. The Renegade dance challenge was created by Jalaiah Harmon, a 14-year-old Black girl from Atlanta. However, Charli D’amelio is the face of the challenge, as this is what shot her to fame. Many people were upset over D’amelio’s lack of credit to Harmon as the creator of the challenge. This small discourse points to a larger issue, that white content creators are reaping the benefits of things created by black content creators. D’amelio addressed the issue by posting the dance with Jalaiah, and acknowledging her, which was a step in the right direction. This ties into Safiya Noble’s argument about algorithm’s favoring white culture over black culture. While the issue surrounding race and oppression through digital culture on an app like Tik Tok is ever-continuing, there is a counter-discourse. Without the advent for Jalaiah’s credit by Tik Tok commenter’s she would have never gotten the credit in the first place. As much digital racism there is on Tik Tok, there is also an incredibly large amount of digital activism.
Raymond William’s focuses on the cause and effect between a technology and a society. Which is why it’s important to first understand the social history that led to the development of the technology. That being said, I believe Raymond Williams would have said that Tik Tok is a response to the foresight of content creation amongst everyday individuals. He disagrees with Marshall Mcluhan that the media shapes us into who we are and opts for an argument in the middle. We shape media and it in turn shapes us. Tik Tok was a love child of multiple different apps and years of content creation understanding. So, I would argue that he would say that Tik Tok is a culmination of the social pressures and exertions of content creation, and its relationship to Internet culture is valuable in that it exposes the human experience.
- Anderson, R. (2020, October 5). Tik Tok’s Impact on Our Time: Student Activities Blog: Liberty University. Student Activities. https://www.liberty.edu/campusrec/student-activities/blog/Tik Toks-impact-on-our-time/.
- Joe Tidy, J., & Smith , S. (2020, August 5). Tik Tok: The story of a social media giant. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53640724
- Kelly, C. (2020, August 7). Trump issues orders banning Tik Tok and WeChat from operating in 45 days if they are not sold by Chinese parent companies. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/06/politics/trump-executive-order-Tik Tok/index.html.
- Lin, Liza; Winkler, Rolfe (November 10, 2017). “Social-Media App Musical.ly Is Acquired for as Much as $1 Billion”. Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
- Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression:data discrimination in the age of Google. New York University Press.
- Sinke, K., Sanchez, M., Rosenberg, S., Bettens, C., Williams, K., Shunyata, K., Agarwal, A., Bernheim, C., Risberg, J., & Ferrucci, O. (2020, July 1). What Going Viral on Tik Tok Taught Me About Cultural Appropriation. Lithium Magazine. https://lithiumagazine.com/2020/07/01/what-going-viral-on-Tik Tok-taught-me-about-cultural-appropriation/.