Millions of teenagers who are seeking their 15 seconds of fame are flocking to TikTok, a new social network / video app. The site, owned by China's ByteDance, claimed that it had 500 million users as of June 2018, following its purchase of Musical.ly, which greatly expanded its reach in the U.S.
According to market analysis firm Sensor Tower; the social network became the most downloaded on Apple's App Store in the first half of 2018, beating out Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Analysts say it filled the void left by Vine, which introduced countless numbers of teens to the creative possibilities of ultra-short videos but failed to find a sustainable business model. Brian Solis at the U.S. tech advisory firm Altimeter said, "TikTok capitalizes on short-term creative content that other platforms don't encourage."
According to Solis, "If there is one thing Silicon Valley can learn from Chinese app development, it's that it is tuned in to viral-as-a-service, meaning that their most popular apps have really been about making content and personas viral and also hyper-engaged."
Critics of the app says Yet critics say its surging popularity among young girls in particular exposes them to caustic comments, potential abuse by their peers, and offers targets for sexual predators. The app itself promises a video-sharing community that's "raw, real and without boundaries" and claims to be appropriate for children aged 12 and older.
|TikTok is a phenomenon with Chinese millennials|
Parents aren't always convinced, given the numbers of young girls suggestively singing along to sexually explicit lyrics that are often degrading to women.
Such videos are the stock in trade of TikTok's stars, and while media doesn’t downplay the popularity of these stars, their reports have also documented cases of users being bombarded with disturbing comments, while others have been asked for private contact details or to post provocative images.
Last summer the Indonesian government banned the app after 170,000+ people signed a petition saying that lip-syncing in revealing outfits was not suitable for children. The government eventually lifted the apps ban, but only after TikTok representatives from China flew to Jakarta and promised to hire more people to weed out inappropriate content.
And in a sign of things to come in 2019, in December a citizens group formed in Japan that plans to ask the legislature to ban the app for those who are under 18 years of age.
At the same time, the U.S. Internet watchdog group, Common Sense, says the combination of mature content and privacy risks means users should be a minimum of 16 years of age. "Because the age limit is so low, you attract a greater assortment of dangerous characters, and users lying about their age," Solis said.
Brian Solis of Altimeter adds “The effects of early exposure to social media are so new that "parents, educators, even doctors... are either under-qualified or completely ignorant in the face of the need to guide a young generation in the dangers and possibilities of these new technologies."
Citizens and legislators in Japan may soon agree that youth are in danger from the TikTok app and if banned in the country may set off a reverberation across Asia that could result in legislative bans in other countries as concerned parents try to protect their children from some of the negative aspects of the Internet.