TikTok: What Is It And Why Is It So Popular?

If you’re a mom of a teen or tween reading this, you’ve probably heard of TikTok, the video app popular with kids today. By kids, I of course mean Gen Z—the cohort of folks born after millennials and the age group into which most of today’s teens and tweens fall.

If you’ve heard of TikTok, it’s likely because your kid has mentioned it. Or you have overheard your kids talking about it.  Or, maybe you’ve heard murmurings about regarding social media and Internet safety. Regardless of how you’ve heard of it, it’s very likely that you’re still not exactly sure what TikTok is. It’s an Internet phenomenon cloaked in mystery for those of us beyond our teens and early twenties.

But if it sounds like the app is a closely kept secret, it’s not. It’s actually one of the most popular social media apps in the world today, having surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat in monthly installs in the App Store. In 2018, TikTok was downloaded more than a billion times. Worldwide, there are over 500 million users, with nearly 30 million of those active users in the United States.

What is TikTok?

To put it into terms most of us reading this would understand, TikTok is smaller than Facebook (which includes Instagram and WhatsApp), but much larger than Twitter and Snapchat.

TikTok is actually the second iteration of Musical.ly—an app very similar to TikTok, which was launched in 2014 and acquired by ByteDance—TikTok’s parent company—in 2017.

Today, TikTok remains a place for users to upload lip sync videos or comedy sketches. TikTok’s platform is similar to the now-defunct video app Vine in that videos have time limits. In TikTok’s case, the duration is fifteen seconds, a little over twice the length of Vine videos.

Why it is so popular?

The allure of TikTok is a bit like the allure of every other social network. It offers instant gratification, the opportunity to go viral, and a chance to connect with those who share similar interests. And according to teens, TikTok not only does this, but it does it better than its social media predecessors.

Without following a single account, users experience a full feed targeted toward their interests. Hashtags encourage users to participate in various challenges, giving even the smallest account an opportunity to become a viral superstar.

Much like Instagram, there are even those considered to be “TikTok famous.” “TikTok girls” are to 2019 what “MySpace girls” were in 2006.

Is TikTok dangerous?

Like any other social network, there are inherent risks that come with use of the app. Opportunities for inappropriate behavior exist, particularly when many users of the app are teens and tweens. In recent history, TikTok has made news headlines for allegedly being a “bad influence” for kids. Certain countries outside the United States have also sought to ban the app from use.

However, much of the concern comes from the lack of information many non-users of the app have regarding its intended use.

Bottom line: If you have minors in your care, you should always closely monitor their social media use. TikTok isn’t destroying today’s youth, but it is not impervious to the undesirable threats kids have always faced. As always, it’s our job to make sure we are doing our best to keep them safe.

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