IT is the fastest growing social media platform, launching a host of new stars – and it has even had its first marriage.
And if you have not heard of TikTok yet, you are probably just too old.
ISIS propaganda videos have been posted on the app[/caption]
Anyone over 30 is unlikely to get the appeal of watching short clips — just 15 or 60 seconds long — of teens lip-syncing to pop songs, showing off their dance moves or carrying out silly challenges.
But a generation of young people are hooked, with a third of users aged under 18.
Now there is a host of TikTok stars, following in the same vein as influential YouTubers and vloggers.
Last week The Sun revealed that Brit Daniel Hancock, 26, and his US bride Sarah, 27, tied the knot in Las Vegas eight months after following each other on TikTok.
The pair fell in love after performing a duet of Ed Sheeran’s song Shape Of You on the site.
Celebrities have got on the bandwagon, too, including Rita Ora, Lewis Capaldi and Ed himself.
Will Smith is also on there, and Reese Witherspoon posted a film of her 16-year-old son Deacon showing her how to use TikTok.
But charities have warned of the risks of young people falling prey to paedophiles, and the app is currently being investigated in the UK.
Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: “Without the right security settings, children broadcasting live video of themselves in their bedrooms over the internet could be targeted by abusers.”
And it has been reported in the US that IS militants were posting jihadi propaganda on the site.
The app’s Chinese owner, Zhang Yiming, was just 29 when he started TikTok’s parent company ByteDance seven years ago. Now he is in Time magazine’s most 100 influential people list, and described as the world’s top entrepreneur.
He launched TikTok in 2017, and the same year bought Shanghai-based media platform Musical.ly, then merged them, keeping the TikTok name. It works in a similar way to an earlier hit short-form video service, Vine, which was around from 2012 to 2017 and had 200million users.
In contrast, TikTok has now been downloaded more than a billion times in 150 countries and 75 languages. Last year it was named as the world’s most valuable start-up, worth £58billion. In the first quarter of this year, it was the world’s most downloaded app, beating Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
TikTok in numbers
- Hit app downloaded more than one billion times
- Company valued last year at an astonishing £58billion
- Biggest star is singer Loren Gray with 29.9million followers
- JiffPom, a Pomeranian dog in the US, earns £30k a post
User Holly Hubert, known as Holly H on the app, looks like Ariana Grande and is the UK’s biggest TikToker, with 16million followers.
The 23-year-old started making madcap videos as something to do at home in quiet Guernsey, and her first was a video of her “pulling faces”.
Now living in West Sussex with her family, she has her own range of merchandise, including joggers and hoodies, all emblazoned with the phrase “Professional weirdo”.
She has worked with Warner Bros, Nickelodeon and Unilever, has a tour planned for next year, and at big events she is flanked by bodyguards.
Although top stars do not get a cut of the app’s ad revenue, as happens on YouTube, the exposure can bring other lucrative money-making opportunities.
TikTok itself earns money from advertising and from big brands placing films on the site to get their product noticed. Ralph Lauren and Burberry have created hashtag challenges for users to copy, paying a fortune — possibly into six figures — to net huge coverage in the youth market.
And there have been heartwarming stories too. Last month a clip of Suffolk schoolgirl Jasmine Morton, who has cerebral palsy, walking unaided for the first time notched up half a million views.
On the App Store, TikTok is labelled as being for those aged 12 and over. But like many social media sites, the age verification is just a matter of inputting a date of birth. And TikTok, like everything else online, is not immune to the web’s dark side.
A Vice magazine investigation found TikTok users who appeared to be soliciting explicit images from boys and girls.
There have also been complaints of users being asked for nude pictures, while some of the app’s stars have been accused of exploiting children by charging to speak to them.
Mum-of-two Carolyn Wilkins, a 39-year-old website editor from Coventry, said she has been concerned about her 11-year-old daughter Izzy using the app.
She said: “It was the only social media platform we allowed her on but she’s had messages from men trying to get her into a conversation. They never have photos on their profile.
“Fortunately she is quite savvy and always tells me. She never responds.”
Andy Burrows, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online Policy, said: “TikTok is very popular with children yet its owners have previously shown a careless approach to protecting its young users. Abusers can exploit TikTok’s chat and live-streaming features to groom and harm children, and sexualised content of young people was allowed because moderators were told to assume users were adults if their age was unclear.
“Time and again social media providers have failed to keep children safe, which is why the Government must introduce a regulator who can hold these sites to account and punish them if they don’t.”
John Carr, one of the UK’s leading experts on child online safety, warned: “There’s no question an app like this is a magnet for paedophiles.”
TikTok is currently under investigation by Britain’s privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, said: “We are looking at the transparency tools for children, the messaging system, the kind of videos collected and shared by children online.”
TikTok has now tightened its policy on content featuring users wearing sexy outfits or dancing provocatively and moderators now treat users as under-18 if there is any doubt.
It has also joined web watchdogs Internet Matters and the Internet Watch Foundation to promote safety online, and employs a growing team of moderators to review content.
A TikTok spokesman added: “TikTok is committed to building and promoting a safe and positive experience for our users.
“If inappropriate content is reported and there may be doubt over whether the person is over 18, we take a safety-first approach, assume the person is under 18 and remove the material from our platform.”
In February, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance was fined a record £4.4million in the US after it failed to obtain parental consent before collecting names, email addresses and other information from children under 13. In response, TikTok resolved to make changes to better accommodate younger users.
Last month the Wall Street Journal reported that IS militants were posting twisted jihadi propaganda on the site.
The now-removed videos featured corpses being paraded through streets, IS singalongs and fighters posing with guns, all aimed at enlisting impressionable youngsters.
Similar propaganda has appeared on other social media sites, such as Facebook.
In a statement, a TikTok spokesman said of the “industry-wide challenge” at the time: “Content promoting terrorist organisations has absolutely no place on TikTok.
“We permanently ban any such accounts and associated devices as soon as identified and we continuously develop ever-stronger controls to proactively detect suspicious activity.”
Earlier this year, India banned downloads of the app following concerns it was exposing children to pornography and sexual predators.
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The ban was lifted when ByteDance announced it would hire more moderators to monitor the country’s 200million users.
And recently in Adelaide, Australia, there were calls for mobile phones to be banned in schools after TikTok clips emerged of pupils in uniform simulating sexually explicit acts in a classroom and performing dangerous stunts.
But despite the growing concerns among parents and professionals, it seems nothing can stop TikTok clocking up the numbers right now.
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