The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz: People like TikTok because it’s free of toxicity
Since short-form video app TikTok, formerly known as Music.ly, burst onto the scene in 2018, it has captivated young audiences with its endless challenges, memes and lip syncs. The app even helped launch rapper Lil Nas X, and propel his hit “Old Town Road” to a record-holding 17 weeks on top of the Billboard charts.
To outsiders, the app has a reputation for “cringey” content and comedic music videos produced by and for teenagers. But for Taylor Lorenz, a tech and internet reporter for The Atlantic, TikTok’s unusual approach to social media is game-changing.
“All these apps look the same,” said Lorenz. “You go on, you follow some people, consume everything in a feed, and that makes people kind of miserable, as we’ve seen. People don’t want that, which is why they’re migrating to things like group chats and Discord. So when something like TikTok comes along, that’s providing a different experience and breaks the assumptions of some of those other apps, it’s enticing. Especially to young people who are like, ‘Oh this is much cooler, and I don’t feel as drained after spending an hour on this.'”
On this week’s episode of The Digiday Podcast, Brian Morrissey welcomes Lorenz back into the studio for a deep dive on the app that everyone is talking about, but not many understand. Here they discuss what TikTok is, what sets it apart from other platforms, and why it still has some growing up to do. Edited highlights below.
What is TikTok?
“TikTok is a short-form video app, which is like every app, but it’s basically this feed of 15-seconds to 1-minute videos that you’re auto-served when you open the app, and they’re funny. They’re set to music or sound — TikTok used to be Music.ly, which a lot of people thought of as a lip-syncing app, and a lot of people used it that way too. With TikTok it’s more about putting creative sound to video and sharing it. My favorite one is these fat, little dogs trying to run down a little path, but they keep falling, and somebody put music to it and they fall to the beats of the music. Things like that are really popular.”
Why it is popular
“It’s a participatory app, so part of the fun of TikTok is actually making the TikTok. It unlocks a creativity and a group dynamic in a way that Instagram doesn’t. You’ll see somebody do something on there and think, ‘I can do that,’ and you want to put your own spin on it and potentially go viral. Another reason people like it is because it’s free from a lot of toxicity. People are mean on there and bully each other in the comments for sure, but it’s better moderated. It’s not so intense. You don’t have people on there trying to tell you about Donald Trump, or other stressful things, it’s mostly just fun and entertaining. One other thing is that it’s really good at serving you content that you want to see. Your primary experience of the app is this “For You” feed, which is like if Instagram Explore was your main feed. Because of that, each piece of content is served to you differently, and it kind of breaks that model of the follow graph, which all of these American social networks rely on. It lets each piece of content find it’s own audience.”
Why the issue of stereotyping new platforms
“Even the assumptions around the app today, versus last October, are completely different. It’s still cringey, and older people are still going to feel out of place, but all of these popular apps go through this. With Facebook it was like, ‘Oh, that’s a place for college students and kids, why would I be on it?’ Then adults got on it. With Instagram, it was the same thing. Snapchat never really got out of that, and that’s part of the problem. It was, ‘Oh you have a Snapchat? You’re probably sexting.’ I think I wrote a whole defense of Snapchat at one point. When you come up with these stereotypes about an app, and you write it off based on this stereotype, then you miss a lot of the interesting user behavior that’s emerging on it. So with TikTok, yes it skews young, yes a lot of it is cringey, but that’s kind of the appeal of it.”
Member ExclusiveFuture of TV Briefing: TV news networks are stepping up streaming’s centrality
The Future of TV Briefing this week checks out the recent flurry of streaming activity among TV news networks.
Member ExclusiveFuture of TV Briefing: How the TV, streaming and digital video industry spent its summer
The Future of TV Briefing this week recaps what happened over the summer, including the return of mega-merger mania, the sped-up upfront cycle, the flattening streaming landscape and TV's measurement melee.
Cheat Sheet: TV networks, video platforms and publishers pitch advertisers at the IAB’s Fall Marketplace
Held on Sept. 14, the inaugural Fall Marketplace featured TV, streaming and digital video sellers pitching their wares and industry executives discussing a range of topics.
SponsoredHow retailers can be ready for holiday shoppers this year
Suchi Sastri, managing director and partner, Boston Consulting Group As the holiday season approaches and the pandemic continues to evolve, retailers want to know what to expect. Will e-commerce continue to grow at the rate it did last year? How big of a role will in-store shopping play in holiday shopping? While it’s still early, […]
Why Canadian TV company Blue Ant Media has taken a niche, FAST-first approach to building up its U.S. business
The U.S. version of Blue Ant Media’s HauntTV has attracted 600,000 unique viewers on Roku’s The Roku Channel since soft-launching in mid-August.
Member ExclusiveFuture of TV Briefing: How TikTok has influenced media companies’ videos on platforms like Snapchat and YouTube
The Future of TV Briefing this week looks at how TikTok has been subsumed into video makers’ approaches to other platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat and even YouTube.