Articles - 5th July 2019

The future’s Tik Tok, but we wish it wasn’t

Words by Caroline Kelly

Do you remember when you wore your mood ring and choker to that party in the early 90s and thought “this is it; I have nailed that look”. It was a cross between Beverly Hills 90210 and Topshop and you rocked it.

Chances are you’ve thrown away those bootcut jeans and moved swiftly on into the Noughties with never a backward glance. As it is with fashion, so it is with tech. Once in a while, like a comfy pair of once-fashionable cowboy boots, tech trends are resurrected for the sake of nostalgia. Though it’s a safe bet you’re not nearly as keen on retro gaming as you pretend you are.

The latest platform to pop out of the creative ether is TikTok. Last year this app was the fourth most popular download, throwing shade on Instagram and the like. If you weren’t one of the millions, then you’re probably not a Chinese teenager as this is where the bulk of users hail from.

A cross between YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, TikTok allows users to post and share short video clips of themselves. Throw some filters in and you’ve got a platform that’s the ultimate destination in user-generated content and a LOT of people who would love to be very, very famous. Out of the 500 million active users, there’s got to be at least one new Kardashian, right? Fingers crossed; god knows we need more stars advertising medically unsound diet tea.

Much of its content is based around teens lip synching, with varying degrees of success, along to their favourite songs. So simple and so, so popular. While the appeal is huge, there really doesn’t appear to be anything particularly new or enticing to many wizened users of the internet. If you’re not into posting videos of yourself on YouTube or Instagram, chances are you’re not going to find much to persuade you to start lip synching on TikTok.

Instead, like Instagram it seems likely that TikTok will become something of a performance space. It will have its stars; its version of YouTubers and they will amass millions of followers. We will wait with interest as fave TikTokers (Tikers, Tokeratti?) post their latest videos and we’ll share them with our own public.

If there is one worrying aspect, it’s the apparent use of TikTok as a platform to fleece unsuspecting youngsters out of their hard-earned pocket money through a practice known as gift baiting. Recently hitting the headlines, gift baiting on TikTok is the art of persuading your followers to gift you virtual presents in return for personal information, a star’s personal phone number and so on. These virtual presents don’t come cheap, many at around the £50 mark and, naturally, many TikTok stars aren’t shy in asking for more and more once they see wallets opening.

It’s believed that the platform itself pockets half of the value of the virtual gifts, so asking for cash is very much in the rule book and is all part of the appeal for the more popular TikTok user.

So, who is naïve enough to throw money at their favourite star for the promise of a shout out on a live stream or a telephone number? While the app is pitched at users aged between 16 and 24, in reality many users are far younger than that, with one British tabloid suggesting a huge majority are around the 13 mark. It’s for this reason that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has stepped in. Because along with the danger of stars exploiting fans for financial gain, there is also the danger of predators exploiting children for far worse.

This fear has led to the current investigation being carried out by the Information Commissioner’s Office into how data is collected and shared by the company behind the app, Bytedance. This Beijing-based firm was previously fined £4.2million for illegally gathering personal data from children under 13 but appears to have done little to stop or at least manage the problem.

So, if Facebook is something your mum’s into and you’re bored of her sharing memes from seven decades ago, then maybe TikTok is where your next social media account lies. You’ll be joining an entire sub-culture who live for videos of their favourite stars miming along to other people’s work. It’s less about interacting, friendship, having conversations and finding connection and so much more one-sided, idolising and worshipping the lucky few deemed better than the rest. If you’re asking yourself what benefit that brings to anyone, you’re not alone.

If we sound cynical then we are but what do we know? It’s time to step aside for the new kid in town, TikTok –  the future of social media. Brush up your moves and recreate yourself on this new platform before you can be accused of living in the past.

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