TikTok is one of the world's most downloaded apps but millions of people would struggle to explain what it actually is. In similar fashion to musician Billie Eilish, who has millions of teen followers but far fewer outside of that age bracket, TikTok remains a bit of a mystery for anyone over the age of 18. Here are the main things you need to know.
TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms on the planet, with more than 500 million active users. Only YouTube, Facebook and Instagram boast more. And yet, millions of people over the age of 15 have never heard of it.
Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat remain ubiquitous in the social media game, but TikTok's surge in popularity cannot be understated. If you're feeling a little left out of the zeitgeist, let us break it down for you.
What is TikTok?
Simply put, TikTok, formerly known as musical.ly, is a video-sharing platform. Similar to the now-defunct Vine (R.I.P., you beautiful app), TikTok encourages users to share videos between three and 15 seconds with the most common format being a comedic
and cringey lip sync of a popular song.
But, TikTok is also known for creating viral challenges or memes.
Some of those challenges include the adorably philosophical Dear Kitten and the illusory Microwave Challenge. It's these challenges and viral memes that make the app a powerful force in making or breaking internet stars.
Dear Lifehacker, My daughter's primary school is in the midst of a TikTok craze. All her classmates use the app on their parents' phones to create duets and share music videos. My daughter doesn't want to be left out, but I have read disturbing reports about the safety of the app, particularly when it comes to online predators. On a scale of one to ten, how dangerous is TikTok for kids?
Who's big on TikTok?
One of the most famous examples of someone using TikTok to propel himself from meme to superstar is Lil Nas X with his infectious ear worm, "Old Town Road." When he first released the song back in December 2018, he helped build its momentum by promoting memes and encouraging sharing on TikTok with the Yeehaw Challenge.
TikTok has since moved on to various new challenges and memes but its star-making power mirrors established sites like YouTube despite only being in the game for the two years.
Why are so many young people on TikTok?
Unlike Instagram, which has seen the rise of the narcissistic influencer, TikTok offers a way for teens and young people to express their creativity in ridiculously fun (and sometimes, downright stupid) ways.
The downside is, with so many young people on the site and online privacy being an afterthought for many of them, safety can be a bit of an issue. There is, however, a tendency to lean into moral panic for parents when it comes to reportage on TikTok. It's important to understand the app is no more dangerous than other social media sites.
Anyone 13 or over can legally have an account but under-18s will need their parents' permission. The eSafety Commissioner offers some tips on how young people can protect their privacy while using the app, including advice on cyberbullying and inappropriate content.