|Initial release||September 2016|
25.1.1 / 10 July 2022
|Size||278.3 MB (iOS)
265.2 MB (iPadOS)
88.0 MB (Android)
|Available in||40 languages|
|Literal meaning||"Vibrating sound"|
TikTok, known in China as Douyin (Chinese: 抖音; pinyin: Dǒuyīn), is a short-form video hosting service owned by Chinese company ByteDance. It hosts a variety of short-form user videos, from genres like pranks, stunts, tricks, jokes, dance, and entertainment with durations from 15 seconds to ten minutes. TikTok is an international version of Douyin, which was originally released in the Chinese market in September 2016. TikTok was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android in most markets outside of mainland China; however, it became available worldwide only after merging with another Chinese social media service, Musical.ly, on 2 August 2018.
TikTok and Douyin have almost the same user interface but no access to each other's content. Their servers are each based in the market where the respective app is available. The two products are similar, but features are not identical. Douyin includes an in-video search feature that can search by people's faces for more videos of them and other features such as buying, booking hotels and making geo-tagged reviews. Since its launch in 2016, TikTok and Douyin rapidly gained popularity in virtually all parts of the world. TikTok surpassed 2 billion mobile downloads worldwide in October 2020.
Douyin was launched by ByteDance in Beijing, China in September 2016, originally under the name A.me, before rebranding to Douyin (抖音) in December 2016. ByteDance planned on Douyin expanding overseas. The founder of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, stated that "China is home to only one-fifth of Internet users globally. If we don’t expand on a global scale, we are bound to lose to peers eyeing the four-fifths. So, going global is a must." Douyin was developed in 200 days and within a year had 100 million users, with more than one billion videos viewed every day.
The app was launched as TikTok in the international market in September 2017. On 23 January 2018, the TikTok app ranked first among free application downloads on app stores in Thailand and other countries.
TikTok has been downloaded more than 130 million times in the United States, and has reached 2 billion downloads worldwide, according to data from mobile research firm Sensor Tower (those numbers exclude Android users in China).
In the United States, celebrities, including Jimmy Fallon and Tony Hawk, began using the app in 2018. Other celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Will Smith, and Justin Bieber joined TikTok as well and many other celebrities have followed.
On 3 September 2019, TikTok and the U.S. National Football League (NFL) announced a multi-year partnership. The agreement occurred just two days before the NFL's 100th season kick-off at Soldier Field, where TikTok hosted activities for fans in honor of the deal. The partnership entails the launch of an official NFL TikTok account, which is to bring about new marketing opportunities such as sponsored videos and hashtag challenges. In July 2020, TikTok, excluding Douyin, reported close to 800 million monthly active users worldwide after less than four years of existence.
In May 2021, TikTok appointed Shou Zi Chew as their new CEO who assumed the position from interim CEO Vanessa Pappas, following the resignation of Kevin A. Mayer on 27 August 2020. On 3 August 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the United States on 15 September if negotiations for the company to be bought by Microsoft or a different "very American" company failed. On 6 August, Trump signed two executive orders banning U.S. "transactions" with TikTok and WeChat to its respective parent companies ByteDance and Tencent, set to take effect 45 days after the signing. A planned ban of the app on 20 September 2020 was postponed by a week and then blocked by a federal judge. President Biden revoked the ban in a new executive order in June 2021. The app has been banned by the government of India since June 2020 along with 223 other Chinese apps in view of privacy concerns. Pakistan banned TikTok citing "immoral" and "indecent" videos on 9 October 2020 but reversed its ban ten days later. In March 2021, a Pakistani court ordered a new TikTok ban due to complaints over "indecent" content.
On 9 November 2017, TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, spent up to U.S. $1 billion to purchase musical.ly, a startup headquartered in Shanghai with an overseas office in Santa Monica, California, U.S. Musical.ly was a social media video platform that allowed users to create short lip-sync and comedy videos, initially released in August 2014. It was well known, especially to the younger audience. Looking forward to leveraging the U.S. digital platform's young user base, TikTok merged with musical.ly on 2 August 2018 to create a larger video community, with existing accounts and data consolidated into one app, keeping the title TikTok. This ended musical.ly and made TikTok a worldwide app, excluding China, since China already has Douyin.
Expansion in other markets
As of 2018, TikTok was available in more than 150 markets, and in 75 languages. TikTok was downloaded more than 104 million times on Apple's App Store during the full first half of 2018, according to data provided to CNBC by Sensor Tower.
After merging with musical.ly in August, downloads increased and TikTok became the most downloaded app in the U.S. in October 2018, which musical.ly had done once before. In February 2019, TikTok, together with Douyin, hit one billion downloads globally, excluding Android installs in China. In 2019, media outlets cited TikTok as the 7th-most-downloaded mobile app of the decade, from 2010 to 2019. It was also the most-downloaded app on Apple's App Store in 2018 and 2019, surpassing Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. In September 2020, a deal was confirmed between ByteDance and Oracle in which the latter will serve as a partner to provide cloud hosting. Walmart intends to invest in TikTok. This deal would stall in 2021 as newly elected President Biden's Justice Department put a hold on the previous U.S. ban under President Trump. In November 2020, TikTok signed a licensing deal with Sony Music. In December 2020, Warner Music Group signed a licensing deal with TikTok. In April 2021, Abu Dhabi's department of Culture and Tourism partnered with TikTok to promote tourism. It came following the January 2021 winter campaign, initiated through a partnership between the UAE Government Media Office partnered and TikTok to promote the country's tourism.
Since 2014, the first non-gaming apps with more than 3 billion downloads were Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger; all of these apps belong to Meta. TikTok was the first non-Facebook app to reach that figure. App market research firm Sensor Tower reported that although TikTok had been banned in India, its largest market, in June 2020, downloads in the rest of the world continue to increase, reaching 3 billion downloads in 2021.
The TikTok mobile app allows users to create short videos, which often feature music in the background and can be sped up, slowed down, or edited with a filter. They can also add their own sound on top of the background music. To create a music video with the app, users can choose background music from a wide variety of music genres, edit with a filter and record a 15-second video with speed adjustments before uploading it to share with others on TikTok or other social platforms. They can also film short lip-sync videos to popular songs.
The "For You" page on TikTok is a feed of videos that are recommended to users based on their activity on the app. Content is generated by TikTok's artificial intelligence (AI) depending on the content a user liked, interacted with, or searched. This is in contrast to other social networks' algorithms basing such content off of the user's relationships with other users and what they liked or interacted with. Users can also choose to add to favorites or select "not interested" on videos for their page. TikTok combines the user's enjoyed content to provide videos that they would also enjoy. Users and their content can only be featured on the "for you" page if they are 16 or over as per TikTok policy. Users under 16 will not show up under the "for you" page, the sounds page, or under any hashtags.
The app's "react" feature allows users to film their reaction to a specific video, over which it is placed in a small window that is movable around the screen. Its "duet" feature allows users to film a video aside another video. The "duet" feature was another trademark of musical.ly. The duet feature is also only able to be used if both parties adjust the privacy settings.
Videos that users do not want to post yet can be stored in their "drafts." The user is allowed to see their "drafts" and post when they find it fitting. The app allows users to set their accounts as "private." When first downloading the app, the user's account is public by default. The user can change to private in their settings. Private content remains visible to TikTok, but is blocked from TikTok users who the account holder has not authorized to view their content. Users can choose whether any other user, or only their "friends," may interact with them through the app via comments, messages, or "react" or "duet" videos. Users also can set specific videos to either "public," "friends only," or "private" regardless if the account is private or not.
Users are also allowed to report accounts depending on the account's content, either being spam or inappropriate. In TikTok's support center under "For Parents," they reassure the parents that inappropriate content for their children can be blocked and reported.
When users follow other users, a "following" page is located on the left of the "for you" page. This is a page only to see the videos from the accounts a user follows. Users can also add videos, hashtags, filters, and sounds to their "saved" section. When creating a video, they can refer to their saved section, or create a video straight from it. This section is visible only to the user on their profile allowing them to refer to any video, hashtag, filter, or sound they have previously saved.
Users can also send their friends videos, emojis, and messages with direct messaging. TikTok has also included a feature to create a video based on the user's comments. Influencers often use the "live" feature. This feature is only available for those who have at least 1,000 followers and are over 16 years old. If over 18, the user's followers can send virtual "gifts" that can be later exchanged for money.
One of the newest features as of 2020 is the "Virtual Items" of "Small Gestures" feature. This is based on China's big practice of social gifting. Since this feature was added, many beauty companies and brands created a TikTok account to participate and advertise this feature. With COVID-19 lockdown in the United States, social gifting has grown in popularity. According to a TikTok representative, the campaign was launched as a result of the lockdown, "to build a sense of support and encouragement with the TikTok community during these tough times."
TikTok announced a "family safety mode" in February 2020 for parents to be able to control their children's digital well-being. There is a screen time management option, restricted mode, and can put a limit on direct messages.
The app expanded its parental controls feature called "Family Pairing" in September 2020 to provide parents and guardians with educational resources to understand what children on TikTok are exposed to. Content for the feature was created in partnership with online safety nonprofit, Internet Matters.
In October 2021, TikTok launched a test feature that allows users to directly tip certain creators. Accounts of users that are of age, have at least 100,000 followers and agree to the terms can activate a "Tip" button on their profile, which allows followers to tip any amount, starting from $1.
In December 2021, TikTok started beta-testing Live Studio, a streaming software that would let users broadcast applications open on their computers, including games. The software also launched with support for mobile and PC streaming. However, a few days later, users on Twitter discovered that the software allegedly uses code from the open-source OBS Studio. OBS made a statement saying that, under the GNU GPL version 2, TikTok has to make the code of Live Studio publicly available if it wants to use any code from OBS.
In May 2022, TikTok announced TikTok Pulse, an ad revenue sharing program. It covers the "top 4% of all videos on TikTok" and is only available to creators with more than 100,000 followers. If an eligible creator's video reaches the top 4%, they will receive a 50% share of the revenue from ads displayed with the video.
Content and usage
TikTok tends to appeal to younger users, as 41% of its users are between the ages of 16 and 24. Among these TikTok users, 90% say they use the app daily. TikTok's geographical use has shown that 43% of new users are from India. As of the first quarter of 2022, there were over 100 million monthly active users in the United States and 23 million in the UK. The average user, daily, was spending 1 hour and 25 minutes on the app and opening TikTok 17 times.
A variety of trends have risen within TikTok, including memes, lip-synced songs, and comedy videos. Duets, a feature that allows users to add their own video to an existing video with the original content's audio, have sparked many of these trends.
Trends are shown on TikTok's explore page or the page with the search logo. The page enlists the trending hashtags and challenges among the app. Some include #posechallenge, #filterswitch, #dontjudgemechallenge, #homedecor, #hitormiss, #bottlecapchallenge and more. In June 2019, the company introduced the hashtag #EduTok which received 37 billion views. Following this development, the company initiated partnerships with edtech startups to create educational content on the platform.
The app has spawned numerous viral trends, Internet celebrities, and music trends around the world. Many stars got their start on musical.ly, which merged with TikTok on 2 August 2018. These users include Loren Gray, Baby Ariel, Kristen Hancher, Zach King, Lisa and Lena, Jacob Sartorius, and many others. Loren Gray remained the most-followed individual on TikTok until Charli D’Amelio surpassed her on 25 March 2020. Gray's was the first TikTok account to reach 40 million followers on the platform. She was surpassed with 41.3 million followers. D'Amelio was the first to ever reach 50, 60, and 70 million followers. Charli D’Amelio remained the most-followed individual on the platform until she was surpassed by Khaby Lame on June 23, 2022. Other creators rose to fame after the platform merged with musical.ly on 2 August 2018.
One notable TikTok trend is the "hit or miss" meme, which began from a snippet of iLOVEFRiDAY's song "Mia Khalifa." The song has been used in over four million TikTok videos and helped introduce the app to a larger Western audience. TikTok also played a major part in making "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X one of the biggest songs of 2019 and the longest running number-one song in the history of the US Billboard Hot 100.
TikTok has allowed many music artists to gain a wider audience, often including foreign fans. For example, despite never having toured in Asia, the band Fitz and the Tantrums developed a large following in South Korea following the widespread popularity of their 2016 song "HandClap" on the platform. "Any Song" by R&B and rap artist Zico became number one on the Korean music charts due to the popularity of the #anysongchallenge, where users dance the choreography of "Any Song." The platform has also launched many songs that failed to garner initial commercial success into sleeper hits, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the platform has received some criticism for not paying royalties to artists whose music is used on their platform. In 2020, more than 176 different songs surpassed 1 billion video views on TikTok.
In June 2020, TikTok users and K-pop fans "claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets" for President Trump's campaign rally in Tulsa through communication on TikTok, contributing to "rows of empty seats" at the event. Later, in October 2020, an organization called TikTok for Biden was created to support then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. After the election, the organization was renamed to Gen-Z for Change.
TikTok has banned Holocaust denial, but other conspiracy theories have become popular on the platform, such as Pizzagate and QAnon (two conspiracy theories popular among the U.S. alt-right) whose hashtags reached almost 80 million views and 50 million views respectively by June 2020. The platform has also been used to spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, such as clips from Plandemic. TikTok removed some of these videos, and has generally added links to accurate COVID-19 information on videos with tags related to the pandemic.
On 10 August 2020, Emily Jacobssen wrote and sang "Ode To Remy," a song praising the protagonist from Pixar's 2007 computer-animated film named Ratatouille. The song rose to popularity when musician Daniel Mertzlufft composed a backing track to the song. In response, began creating a "crowdsourced" project called Ratatouille The Musical. Since Mertzlufft's video, many new elements including costume design, additional songs, and a playbill have been created. On 1 January 2021, a full one-hour virtual presentation of Ratatouille the Musical premiered on the TodayTix. It starred Titus Burgess as Remy, Wayne Brady as Django, Adam Lambert as Emile, Chamberlin as Gusteau, Andrew Barth Feldman as Linguini, Ashley Park as Colette, Priscilla Lopez as Mabel, Mary Testa as Skinner, and André De Shields as Ego.
Several food trends have emerged on the platform, such as Dalgona coffee.
Another TikTok usage that corresponds with engagement and bonds people in society is the use of "challenges." These could be on any related topic such as dances or cooking certain meals. People see other people doing something that is trending and then it continues to spread until it is a viral trend which connects people from all over.
While TikTok has primarily been used for entertainment purposes, TikTok may soon have another use, that of a job resource with the idea that prospective employment seekers would send in videos rather than traditional resumes. The form would most likely be a job search add-on. TikTok has had favorable results in the past with people using the site to find jobs and may be expanding that need especially in the newer generations.
Around mid-2020, some of the users on the platform started to differentiate between the "alt", "elite", or "deep" side of TikTok, seen as having more alternative and queer users, and the "straight" side of TikTok, seen as the mainstream. Hyperpop music, including artists like 100 Gecs, became widely used on Alt TikTok, complementing the bright and colourful "Indie Kid" aesthetic. Alt TikTok was also accompanied by memes with surrealist or supernatural themes (sometimes being described as cursed), such as videos with heavy saturation and humanoid animals. One of the popular videos from Alt TikTok, gaining 18 million likes, shows a llama dancing to a cover of a song from a Russian commercial by the cereal brand Miel Pops, later becoming a viral audio. Some Alt TikTok users personified brands and products in what some referred to as Retail TikTok.
Profile picture cults
Another popular trend on TikTok is large amount of users putting the same image as their profile picture, known as a profile picture cult or a TikTok cult. Popular examples include "The Step Chickens" (started by the user @chunkysdead), "The Hamster Cult" and the "Lana Del Rey Cult".
TikTok has provided a platform for users to create content not only for fun, but also for money. As the platform has grown significantly over the past few years, it has allowed companies to advertise and rapidly reach their intended demographic through influencer marketing. The platform's AI algorithm also contributes to the influencer marketing potential, as it picks out content according to the user's preference. Sponsored content is not as prevalent on the platform as it is on other social media apps, but brands and influencers still can make as much as they would if not more in comparison to other platforms. Influencers on the platform who earn money through engagement, such as likes and comments, are referred to as "meme machines."
In 2021, The New York Times reported that viral TikTok videos by young people relating the emotional impact of books on them, tagged with the label "BookTok," significantly drove sales of literature. Publishers were increasingly using the platform as a venue for influencer marketing.
Use by businesses
Some small businesses have used TikTok to advertise and to reach an audience wider than the geographical region they would normally serve. The viral response to many small business TikTok videos has been attributed to TikTok's algorithm, which shows content that viewers at large are drawn to, but which they are unlikely to actively search for (such as videos on unconventional types of businesses, like beekeeping and logging).
In 2020, digital media companies such as Group Nine Media and Global used TikTok increasingly, focusing on tactics such as brokering partnerships with TikTok influencers and developing branded content campaigns. Notable collaborations between larger brands and top TikTok influencers have included Chipotle's partnership with David Dobrik in May 2019 and Dunkin' Donuts' partnership with Charli D'Amelio in September 2020.
Bans and attempted bans
Iranians cannot access TikTok because of both TikTok rules and Iranian censorship.
The Indian Government banned TikTok along with 58 other mobile apps with Chinese developers or investors, including WeChat, UC Browser and PUBG on 29 June 2020. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology released a statement saying the apps were "prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order." It was extended to 47 other apps which the ministry claimed were clones or variants of the banned apps. The ban on TikTok and the 58 other apps was made permanent in January 2021. In February 2021, TikTok announced that due to the ban it will be forced to lay off over 2,000 employees in India.
In June 2021, Law and Life Foundation, a human rights organization, issued a legal notice to the Bangladeshi government that sought the prohibition of “dangerous and harmful" applications such as TikTok, PUBG, and Free Fire, but failed to obtain a response. Soon thereafter, Law and Life Foundation’s lawyers filed a petition with the High Court, sharing the organization’s concerns. In August 2020, the High Court encouraged the Bangladeshi government to prohibit “dangerous and harmful” applications such as TikTok, PUBG, and Free Fire to “save children and adolescents from moral and social degradation.”
Recently more than 2.6 million videos were removed from Bangladesh, according to its recently released Community Guidelines Report for Q4 2021 (October–December 2021). According to the report, Bangladesh ranked 7th worldwide for the largest volume of videos taken down for Community Guidelines violations between October 1, 2021 to December 30, 2021.
On 6 August 2020, then U.S. President Donald Trump signed an order which would ban TikTok transactions in 45 days if it was not sold by ByteDance. Trump also signed a similar order against the WeChat application owned by the Chinese multinational company Tencent.
On 14 August 2020, Trump issued another order giving ByteDance 90 days to sell or spin off its U.S. TikTok business. In the order, Trump said that there is "credible evidence" that leads him to believe that ByteDance "might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States." Donald Trump was concerned about TikTok being a threat because TikTok's parent company was rumored to be taking United States user data and reporting it back to Chinese operations through the company ByteDance. As of 2021, there is still the fear that TikTok is not protecting the privacy of its users and may be giving their data away.
On 18 September, TikTok filed a lawsuit, TikTok v. Trump. On 23 September 2020, TikTok filed a request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the app from being banned by the Trump administration. U.S. judge Carl J. Nichols temporarily blocked the Trump administration order that would effectively ban TikTok from being downloaded in U.S. app stores starting midnight on 27 September 2020. Nichols allowed the app to remain available in the U.S. app stores, but declined to block the additional Commerce Department restrictions that could have a larger impact on TikTok's operations in the U.S. These restrictions were set to take place 12 November 2020.
Three TikTok influencers filed a lawsuit, Marland v. Trump. On 30 October, Pennsylvania judge Wendy Beetlestone ruled against the Commerce Department, blocking them from restricting TikTok. On 12 November, the Commerce Department stated that it would obey the Pennsylvania ruling and that it would not try to enforce the restrictions against TikTok that had been scheduled for 12 November.
The Commerce Department appealed the original ruling in TikTok v. Trump. On 7 December, Washington D.C. district court judge Carl J. Nichols issued a preliminary injunction against the Commerce Department, preventing them from imposing restrictions on TikTok.
In June 2021, new president Joe Biden signed an executive order revoking the Trump administration ban on TikTok, and instead ordered the Secretary of Commerce to investigate the app to determine if it poses a threat to U.S. national security.
In June 2022, reports emerged that ByteDance employees in China could access US data and repeatedly accessed the private information of TikTok users, TikTok employees were cited saying that "everything is seen in China," while one director claimed a Beijing-based engineer referred to as a "Master Admin" has "access to everything."
Following the reports, TikTok announced that 100% of its US user traffic is now being routed to Oracle Cloud, along with their intention to delete all US user data from their own datacenters. This deal stems from the talks with Oracle instigated in September 2020 in the midst of Trump's threat to ban TikTok in the US.
In June 2022, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Google and Apple to remove TikTok from their app stores, citing national security concerns, saying TikTok "harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing."
However, back in March 2022, Bytedance and Oracle negotiated Oracle to take over TikTok's US data storage. After BuzzFeed said China-based employees may have access to US private data, TikTok responded that all US private data are being stored in Oracle's servers. In June 2022, TikTok said that it was moving all of the data produced by its American users through servers controlled by Oracle and it will not expose the personal information of Americans to the Chinese government.
On 11 October 2020, Pakistan became the next country to ban the social media platform after not complying with issues regarding the content on the platform brought up by their government. TikTok representatives have spoken with Pakistani officials in hopes of building better relations and allowing the people of Pakistan to create on the platform.
There are concerns that some users may find it hard to stop using TikTok. In April 2018, an addiction-reduction feature was added to Douyin. This encouraged users to take a break every 90 minutes. Later in 2018, the feature was rolled out to the TikTok app. TikTok uses some top influencers such as Gabe Erwin, Alan Chikin Chow, James Henry, and Cosette Rinab to encourage viewers to stop using the app and take a break.
Many were also concerned with the app affecting users' attention spans due to the short form nature of the content. This is a concern as many of TikTok's audience are younger children, whose brains are still developing. TikTok executives & representatives have noted and made aware to advertisers on the platform that users have poor attention spans. With the large amount of video content, nearly 50% of users find it stressful to watch a video longer than a minute and a third of users watch videos at double speed.
In June 2022, TikTok introduced the ability to set a maximum uninterrupted screen time allowance, after which the app blocks off the ability to navigate the feed. The block only lifts after the app is exited and left unused for a set period of time. Additionally, the app features a dashboard with statistics on how often the app is opened, how much time is spent browsing it and when the browsing occurs.
Some countries have shown concerns regarding the content on TikTok, as their cultures view it as obscene, immoral, vulgar, and encouraging pornography. There have been temporary blocks and warnings issued by countries including Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan over the content concerns. In 2018, Douyin was reprimanded by Chinese media watchdogs for showing "unacceptable" content.
On 27 July 2020, Egypt sentenced five women to two years in prison over TikTok videos. One of the women had encouraged other women to try and earn money on the platform, another woman was sent to prison for dancing. The court also imposed a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds (UK£14,600) on each defendant.
Concerns have been voiced regarding content relating to, and the promotion and spreading of, hateful words and far-right extremism, such as anti-semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Some videos were shown to expressly deny the existence of the Holocaust and told viewers to take up arms and fight in the name of white supremacy and the swastika. As TikTok has gained popularity among young children, and the popularity of extremist and hateful content is growing, calls for tighter restrictions on their flexible boundaries have been made. TikTok have since released tougher parental controls to filter out inappropriate content and to ensure they can provide sufficient protection and security.
A viral TikTok trend known as "devious licks" involves students vandalizing or stealing school property and posting the videos of the action on the platform. The trend has led to increasing school vandalism and subsequent measures taken by some schools to prevent damage. Some students have been arrested for participating in the trend. TikTok has taken measures to remove and prevent access to content displaying the trend.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that doctors experienced a surge in reported cases of tics, tied to an increasing number of TikTok videos from content creators with Tourette syndrome. Doctors suggested that the cause may be a social one as users who consumed content showcasing various tics would sometimes develop tics of their own.
In March 2022, the Washington Post reported that Facebook owner Meta Platforms had paid Targeted Victory—a consulting firm backed by supporters of the U.S. Republican Party—to coordinate lobbying and media campaigns against TikTok to portray it as "a danger to American children and society", primarily to counter criticism of Facebook's own services. This included op-eds and letters to the editor in regional publications, the amplification of "dubious local news stories citing TikTok as the origin of dangerous teen trends" (such as the aforementioned "devious licks", and an alleged "Slap a Teacher" challenge), including those whose initial development actually began on Facebook, and the similar promotion of "proactive coverage" of Facebook corporate initiatives.
Numerous examples of White TikTokers appropriating content that was created initially by Black content creators have been noted on the platform. In June 2021, the New York Times published an investigation into the practice as part of the Hulu documentary, Who Gets to be an Influencer?
In July 2021, after Megan Thee Stallion released "Thot Shit," there was a general strike by Black TikTokers who refused to make dances to it as they normally would, in protest of the inequity of compensation for Black creators and white creators who stole the Black creators' content.
In January 2020, left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters for America said that TikTok hosted misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic despite a recent policy against misinformation. In April 2020, the government of India asked TikTok to remove users posting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also multiple conspiracy theories that the government is involved with the spread of the pandemic. As a response to this, TikTok launched a feature to report content for misinformation.
To combat misinformation in the 2022 midterm election in the US, TikTok announced a midterms Elections Center available in app to users in 40 different languages. TikTok partnered with the National Association of Secretaries of State to give accurate local information to users.
Misinformation when Searching on TikTok
Based on NewsGuard’s Misinformation Monitor published in September 2022, the search feature on TikTok surfaces misinformation in 20% of the cases. The fact checking organisation analyzed 540 videos and found 105 to contain "false or misleading claims." The questionable videos included harmful misleading information about various topics, including homemade recipes for hydroxychloroquine and abortion, 2020 US election integrity and the death toll of the war in Ukraine.
Content censorship and moderation by the platform
TikTok's censorship policy has been criticized as non-transparent. Criticism of leaders such as Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been suppressed by the platform, as well as information relating to the Xinjiang internment camps and the Uyghur genocide. Internal documents have revealed that moderators suppress posts created by users deemed "too ugly, poor, or disabled" for the platform, and censor political speech in livestreams. TikTok moderators have also blocked content that could be perceived as being positive towards LGBT people.
2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
In response to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, TikTok banned new Russian posts and livestreams. However a study by Tracking Exposed found out that TikTok had blocked all non-Russian content, but has continued to host old videos uploaded by Russia-based accounts and permitted Russian state media to continue posting, described as establishing a “splinternet” within a global social media platform. TikTok's vague censorship has permitted pro-Kremlin news but blocked foreign accounts and critics of the war, as a result "Russians are left with a frozen TikTok, dominated by pro-war content".
User privacy concerns
In January 2020, Check Point Research discovered a security flaw in TikTok which could have allowed hackers access to user accounts using SMS. In February, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman criticised the app, calling it "spyware," and stating "I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it's always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone." Responding to Huffman's comments, TikTok stated, "These are baseless accusations made without a shred of evidence." Wells Fargo banned the app from its devices due to privacy and security concerns.
In May 2020, the Dutch Data Protection Authority announced an investigation into TikTok in relation to privacy protections for children. In June 2020, the European Data Protection Board announced that it would assemble a task force to examine TikTok's user privacy and security practices.
In August 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that TikTok tracked Android user data, including MAC addresses and IMEIs, with a tactic in violation of Google's policies. The report sparked calls in the U.S. Senate for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to launch an investigation.
In October 2021, following the Facebook Files and controversies about social media ethics, a bipartisan group of lawmakers also pressed TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat on questions of data privacy and moderation for age appropriate content. The New York Times reported, "Lawmakers also hammered [head of U.S. policy at TikTok] Mr. Beckerman about whether TikTok’s Chinese ownership could expose consumer data to Beijing," stating that "Critics have long argued that the company would be obligated to turn Americans’ data over to the Chinese government if asked." TikTok told U.S. lawmakers it does not give information to China's government. TikTok's representative stated that TikTok's data is stored in the U.S. with backups in Singapore. According to the company's representative, TikTok had 'no affiliation' with the subsidiary Beijing ByteDance Technology, in which the Chinese government has a minority stake and board seat.
In June 2022, BuzzFeed News reported that leaked audio recordings of internal TikTok meetings revealed that certain China-based employees of the company maintain full access to overseas data.
In September 2022, during a testimony to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, TikTok's COO stated that the company could not commit to stopping data transfers from US users to China. The COO reacted to concerns of the company's handling of user data by stating that TikTok does not operate in China, though the company does have an office there.
U.S. COPPA fines
On 27 February 2019, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined ByteDance U.S.$5.7 million for collecting information from minors under the age of 13 in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. ByteDance responded by adding a kids-only mode to TikTok which blocks the upload of videos, the building of user profiles, direct messaging, and commenting on others' videos, while still allowing the viewing and recording of content. In May 2020, an advocacy group filed a complaint with the FTC saying that TikTok had violated the terms of the February 2019 consent decree, which sparked subsequent Congressional calls for a renewed FTC investigation. In July 2020, it was reported that the FTC and the United States Department of Justice had initiated investigations.
UK Information Commissioner's Office investigation
In February 2019, the United Kingdom's Information Commissioner's Office launched an investigation of TikTok following the fine ByteDance received from the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Speaking to a parliamentary committee, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said that the investigation focuses on the issues of private data collection, the kind of videos collected and shared by children online, as well as the platform's open messaging system which allows any adult to message any child. She noted that the company was potentially violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which requires the company to provide different services and different protections for children.
Italian Data Protection Authority
On 22 January 2021, the Italian Data Protection Authority ordered the blocking of the use of the data of users whose age has not been established on the social network. The order was issued after the death of a 10-year-old Sicilian girl, which occurred after the execution of a challenge shared by users of the platform that involved attempting to choke the user with a belt around the neck. The block is set to remain in place until 15 February, when it will be re-evaluated.[needs update]
Ireland Data Protection Commission
Texas Attorney General investigation
In February 2022, the incumbent Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, initiated an investigation into TikTok for alleged violations of children's privacy and facilitation of human trafficking. Paxton claimed that the Texas Department of Public Safety gathered several pieces of content showing the attempted recruitment of teenagers to smuggle people or goods across the Mexico–United States border. He claimed the evidence may prove the company's involvement in "human smuggling, sex trafficking and drug trafficking." The company claimed that no illegal activity of any kind is supported on the platform.
As with other platforms, journalists in several countries have raised privacy concerns about the app, because it is popular with children and has the potential to be used by sexual predators.
Several users have reported endemic cyberbullying on TikTok, including racism and ableism. In December 2019, following a report by German digital rights group Netzpolitik.org, TikTok admitted that it had suppressed videos by disabled users as well as LGBTQ+ users in a purported effort to limit cyberbullying. TikTok's moderators were also told to suppress users with "abnormal body shape," "ugly facial looks," "too many wrinkles," or in "slums, rural fields" and "dilapidated housing" to prevent bullying.
In 2021, the platform revealed that it will be introducing a feature that will prevent teenagers from receiving notifications past their bedtime. The company will no longer send push notifications after 9pm to users aged between 13 and 15. For 16 to 17 year olds notifications will not be sent after 10pm.
TikTok has received criticism for enabling children to purchase coins which they can send to other users.
Impact on mental health
In February 2022, The Wall Street Journal reported that "Mental-health professionals around the country are growing increasingly concerned about the effects on teen girls of posting sexualized TikTok videos." In March 2022, a coalition of U.S. state attorneys general launched an investigation into TikTok's effect on children's mental health.
Several former employees of the company have claimed of poor workplace conditions, including the start of the workweek on Sunday to cooperate with Chinese timezones and excessive workload. Employees claimed they averaged 85 hours of meetings per week and would frequently stay up all night in order to complete tasks. Some employees claimed the workplace's schedule operated similar to the 996 schedule. The company has a stated policy of working from 10AM to 7PM five days per week (63 hours per week), but employees noted that it was encouraged for employees to work after hours. One female worker complained that the company did not allow her adequate time to change her feminine hygiene product because of back-to-back meetings. Another employee noted that working at the company caused her to seek marriage therapy and lose an unhealthy amount of weight. In response to the allegations, the company noted that they were committed to allowing employees "support and flexibility."
Tencent's WeChat platform has been accused of blocking Douyin's videos. In April 2018, Douyin sued Tencent and accused it of spreading false and damaging information on its WeChat platform, demanding CN¥1 million in compensation and an apology. In June 2018, Tencent filed a lawsuit against Toutiao and Douyin in a Beijing court, alleging they had repeatedly defamed Tencent with negative news and damaged its reputation, seeking a nominal sum of CN¥1 in compensation and a public apology. In response, Toutiao filed a complaint the following day against Tencent for allegedly unfair competition and asking for CN¥90 million in economic losses.
Data transfer class action lawsuit
In November 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed in California that alleged that TikTok transferred personally identifiable information of U.S. persons to servers located in China owned by Tencent and Alibaba. The lawsuit also accused ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, of taking user content without their permission. The plaintiff of the lawsuit, college student Misty Hong, downloaded the app but said she never created an account. She realized a few months later that TikTok has created an account for her using her information (such as biometric) and made a summary of her information. The lawsuit also alleged that information was sent to Chinese tech giant Baidu. In July 2020, twenty lawsuits against TikTok were merged into a single class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In February 2021, TikTok agreed to pay $92 million to settle the class action lawsuit.
Voice actor lawsuit
In May 2021, Canadian voice actor Bev Standing filed a lawsuit against TikTok over use of her voice in the text-to-speech feature without her permission. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York. TikTok declined to comment. Standing believes that TikTok used recordings she made for the Chinese government-run Institute of Acoustics. The voice used in the feature was subsequently changed.
Market Information Research Foundation lawsuit
In June 2021, the Netherlands-based Market Information Research Foundation (SOMI) filed a €1.4 billion lawsuit on behalf of Dutch parents against TikTok, alleging that the app gathers data on children without adequate permission.
Blackout Challenge lawsuits
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against TikTok, accusing the platform of hosting content that led to the death of at least seven children. The lawsuits claim that children died after attempting the Blackout Challenge - a TikTok trend that involves strangling someone until they black out. TikTok stated that search queries for the challenge do not show any results, linking instead to protective resources, while the parents of two of the deceased argued that the content showed up on their children's TikTok feeds, without them searching for it.
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- List of most-liked TikTok videos
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