Culture

Junk Explained: What The Hell Is TikTok, And Is It The New Vine?

Everything you need to know before joining TikTok.

What is TikTok, the Vine competitor taking over in China.

Lately, you’ve probably started hearing about an app called TikTok. Maybe your friends use it, or maybe you’ve stumbled across an extremely weird video. Maybe, like me, you even thought it was the long-awaited reincarnation of Vine (it’s not — that’s called Byte and it’s coming in a few months).

If you’re late to the party and wondering what TikTok actually is, it’s time to strap in. See, TikTok is a weird unit, part lip sync videos, part dance vids, part extremely weird memes.

At its most familiar, it looks a lot like Vine, but at its strangest, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s also wildly popular — as of July 2018, it was reporting 500 million monthly active users worldwide. That’s bigger than Twitter, and half the size of Instagram. Here’s what you’re missing:

What Is TikTok And Where Did It Come From?

The idea behind TikTok is pretty simple: it’s a platform for sharing short videos, just like Vine. Videos on TikTok can be up to 15 seconds long, there are different songs and filters you can apply to them, and you can create collaborative split-screen videos by replying to someone else’s post.

As for where it came from, the short answer is China (where TikTok is known as Douyin). TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech company that owns quite a few popular apps and platforms in China. While you may not have heard of it, it’s actually one of the most valuable startups in the world, worth around $75 billion as of October 2018.

TikTok itself is the fusion of two different apps: the original TikTok and an app called Musical.ly, which allowed users to create short lip-syncing videos. That explains the huge popularity of lip-synching videos on TikTok…sort of.

The Best Videos On TikTok Right Now

Before we wade into the really weird stuff, let’s start simple: a fair bit of the content on TikTok is just like Vine, and if you’ve been spending the past few years sadly re-watching the same Vine compilations you’re going to love having some new content to watch on repeat. Behold, just a few of the TikTok videos that have made me laugh hysterically at my desk today:

Can I Have A Peppermint? Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Guys? The Enduring Questions Of Weird TikTok

TikTok gets much, much weirder than this, though. In fact, we haven’t even scratched the surface. With both Vine and now TikTok, it’s become common for people to edit together best-of compilation videos and post them to YouTube.

When you search for TikTok compilations, though, you tend to find compilations of either “Ironic Memes” (memes that are, depending on your perspective, either visionary or deeply unfunny), or “TikTok cringe” (a selection of TikTok’s worst videos, which are frequently very hard to distinguish from the good ones).

Throughout all this, there’s also lots of lip-sync and dancing. See this compilation, for example:

Or these videos, which start to get at some of TikTok’s weirder (but still wildly popular) content:

Buzzfeed’s got a pretty comprehensive list of weird TikTok trends and challenges, if you’re still craving more of this. For now, we’ll leave you with a question: why do good girls like bad guys?

Old People Are Surprisingly Good At TikTok

Some of TikTok’s best content, surprisingly, isn’t even coming from The Youth. Actually, there’s a real phenomenon of older people (as in, old enough to be the parents of the teens using these apps) absolutely killing it on TikTok. See this video, which could have come straight out of the Vine compilations of yesteryear:

Where older people really seem to excel on TikTok, though, is the dancing. There’s a whole subculture of older men on TikTok who are wildly famous for uploading videos of themselves practising their dancing, usually set to hip-hop or EDM. The dancing is impressive, but even more impressive is the seriousness with which these guys seem to approach it.

See this guy, Noguhide (@noguhide5050), who’s become a bit of a TikTok celebrity for his incredibly earnest dance videos (seriously — he has close to 50,000 followers). In his videos he doesn’t speak, smile, or even make eye contact with the camera: he just dances.

This guy (@31181678753) does a similar thing (he currently has around 20,000 followers), except he always seems to look as if he’s just set up to film when he’s on his way to work. He’s also incredibly good.

Should I Sign Up To TikTok?

We’ve covered what TikTok is, and the kinds of content going wild on it. As for whether you should sign up, that’s your choice, but it’s worth flagging that you should make sure to actually read the service’s privacy policy before deciding.

That’s because right now, the amount of information TikTok says it collects about its users is pretty extensive, and it’s very vague about who it gives that information to (for instance, the app collects “information contained in the messages you send through our Platform”, not just the times and dates the messages were sent, and it shares information it collects with “business partners, advertisers, analytics and search engine providers”, amongst others). TikTok’s not alone in doing this — lots of social media services are collecting and selling a lot of information about you — but it’s worth noting that TikTok’s collection of personal information is on the more extensive end of things.

And while TikTok isn’t alone in this either, it’s also worth noting that the app has reportedly had problems with hate speech, and the exploitation of younger users, many of whom are too young to be legally using the app. TikTok says it’s addressing these problems, but it’s worth being aware of.

Oh, and if you’re planning on posting your TikTok videos publicly, you always run the risk of ending up in a compilation of embarrassing content that will live forever online. That’s true of all social media, though.