What used to be the title of a Ke$ha song is now one of the biggest social media platforms used by people internationally.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a social media app that’s mainly for creating and sharing short videos. Most of them are lip sync and comedy videos that are under 15 seconds long. Unlike Snapchat, where sharing videos is more of a one-to-one experience, TikTok is for a larger audience outreach. You can upload a video and it may very well pop up on the screen of a person sitting in the next country almost instantly. Launched in the international market in October 2017, it very quickly gained a lot of traction. It soon took over musical.ly and merged it with its own interface.
While mainly viewed as just a social media platform to make and share funny videos, TikTok’s explosive outreach has had much more far reaching real life impacts than possibly any other platform. Hania Aamir, a Pakistani actress and heroine of the movie Parwaz Hay Junoon, was discovered by a producer on TikTok. Many such viral accounts have made it to stardom through this interface.
Trouble for TikTokers:
However, the consequences of a harmless ten-second video are not always as great. Only this month, three of Pakistan International Airline (PIA)’s air hostesses were grounded because they made a video of themselves singing and lip syncing during their flight. PIA was not the first airline to take action against staff using TikTok on flights. Many Indian airlines issued similar warnings to their staff as such content is considered indecent and immature by the respective airlines. Not only this, but a man was jailed after he was seen holding an illegal pistol in a TikTok video by the local police in Jehlum. From airline staff to criminals, TikTok seems to be used by everyone.
These are only three incidents in recent months that made it to the news because of this social media app. On the other side of desi TikTok, rural people are using the application to connect to other villagers and urban people alike. Where once villagers used to be the demographic most cut off from modern technology, smartphones and apps like TikTok have enabled them to communicate with people from all parts of the country.
The reason for TikTok’s popularity among this particular demographic the most is because of its easy to use interface. Even for illiterate people, using TikTok is no difficult feat. This is because of the minimal dependence on language and buttons to spread content. For uploading a video, a person doesn’t have to find an ‘upload video’ button as they would on YouTube or other video streaming sites. The upload button is a simple ‘+’ marked button right on the bottom of the screen. When you open the app, videos start auto playing and switching to other videos is as simple as flicking your finger upwards. Descriptions are usually not longer than three or four words. The content on their ‘discover’ page is curated according to short trending hashtags. This kind of user friendly interface makes TikTok easily accessible to all kinds of people.
It has been so successful in Pakistan that there have been huge TikTok meetups in cities like Faisalabad, Hyderabad and Sialkot. In fact, the Faisalabad meetup claimed to be the biggest meetup in Pakistan. It was even sponsored by corporations like Pepsi and Honda.
This application is yet another example of how social media holds great power in influencing actual lives around us. Critics say that the influx of people from supposedly ‘backward’ areas has made the content unbearable and cringe-worthy. But it feels like such criticism comes mainly from internalized classism. If a platform now seems to be dominated by middle and lower middle class people, it isn’t a step backwards for technology. If anything, it’s good to see how access to entertainment and communication can now reach the most cut off communities in developing countries.