What Is The TikTok App That’s Suddenly Getting Banned?

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
After getting ready for a wedding, seventeen-year-old Zoe Laverne pulled out her iPhone, took a slow-mo video of herself twirling in her bedroom, and paired it with "Castle on the Hill" by Ed Sheeren. Two days later, the video has 337,000 likes and over 10,000 comments. Zoe, like a growing number of teen influencers, is well-known and loved for her videos on TikTok.
Unless you’re a Gen Z’er, or are super hip and with the times, you might still think TikTok is just a Kesha bop from 2009, or worse, the sound a clock makes. And while you’re not wrong, if you ask any young person under 20, they’ll tell you TikTok is their very lifeblood. A complete subculture, TikTok has taken the tweeny boppers by storm, leaving us millennials completely in the dust of Instagram and Facebook.
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What is TikTok?

Originally launched in April 2014 as Musical.ly, TikTok is a lip-synching app that boasts over 500 million users worldwide. Musical.ly was purchased by Chinese company ByteDance in November 2017 and officially absorbed into their already existing app called TikTok in August 2018. The app is known for 15-second lip-synching videos, endless challenges (ex. The Mannequin Challenge), and making Millie Bobbie Brown’s friend, Jacob Sartorius, break the iTunes charts. A social media platform teeming with Gen Z users, TikTok is basically the new Vine, with a music twist.

What Does It Do?

Originally made for lip-synching to your favourite songs, TikTok has exploded in all different directions. The feed is filled with fifteen-second vertical videos across genres — from dancing to gymnastics to short-form comedy— their one uniting factor is some kind of audio (either a song or voiceover). It has its own audio library, with a diverse catalog including popular songs and silly voiceovers (a la the emoji challenge), as well as Snapchat-esque filters. Users can garner likes and comments similar to Instagram, and, of course, like any other social media platform, TikTok has its very own influencers, called “Musers.”

Why Is It In The News?

TikTok made headlines in the last week for propelling country trap star Lil Nas X into the spotlight. After his single "Old Town Road" went viral via a meme on TikTok, the song found itself on top of Billboard's Hot 100 chart and Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, but not on the Hot Country Songs chart — despite Lil Nas X identifying as a country artist. Only the third country song to hit the number one Hot 100 spot in thirty years, the exclusion from Hot Country Songs sparked a hot debate about race and the definition of country music itself.
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The app is also somewhat controversial: This week, the Government of India asked Google and Apple remove the app from their respective app stores. The Madras High Court originally asked for the ban months ago stating that the app was “inappropriate for children” and “encouraged pornography.” The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) has put a ban on downloading the app in India, though existing users have yet to lose access. Whether or not a complete ban will go into full effect is still up in the air, this isn't the first time TikTok has been in the news for being a bad influence on children. Last July, Indonesia banned the app.

Who Are TikTok Girls?

Also known as egirls, the TikTok girls are 2019’s version of MySpace girls. With colourful hair, thick winged eyeliner, and a signature black heart under each eye, egirls are the ultimate cool girls. Though the term “egirl” can be sometimes used as a dig, many of these young influencers, such as, fattysalmonella34 (formerly thiccbeefcake69) and Ashley Eldridge, have garnered thousands of followers.

Is TikTok Safe?

Like any other social media platform, there is always the possibility for inappropriate behaviour, especially when minors are involved. TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, does work to remove videos in violation of the Terms of Use, but that can only go so far. In recent months, many social media sites have taken action to protect young people on their platforms — for example, YouTube has disabled comments on videos made by minors to protect them from predators. Only time will tell how TikTok continues to fend off potential threats, but for now TikTok and its community of booty-shaking, challenge-accepting tweens is mostly harmless.
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