TikTok is now one of the most popular new digital social platforms for young people in the world, and has even changed the short video industry landscape. Because of its rapid rise and development, TikTok has quickly become the most watched software in the world. This paper will conduct a critical analysis of TikTok’s transformative impact on the Internet industry and various aspects of society (politics, economics and culture).
What is TikTok
TikTok is a short video sharing App (one of the products of the shared information era), a new form of social media platform. The users can create a 15-second video of any content and share it. This new social media platform is intended to promote that everyone has an equal opportunity to become a blogger.
The historical beginnings of TikTok
The origin of TikTok is different from many legendary entrepreneurial stories, and it is not so dramatic. It used to be a short video application called Musical.ly, which has a stable development and the audiences in the main market of the United States (Musical.ly, 2014). Until 2016, Beijing ByteDance Technology Co., Ltd. launched a similar service in China called Douyin. ByteDance is a pioneer in applying artificial intelligence to the mobile Internet. Due to Douyin’s good audience response, ByteDance acquired Musical.ly, a short video giant in the North American market, in 2018. Combining them has since started TikTok’s global expansion.
The popularization of TikTok
According to data published on the official website of TikTok (TikTok, 2019), from the launch of the product in November 2016 with 0 users increase to the 1.1 billion registered users in mainland China and 614 million registered overseas users in July 2019, a total of approximately 1.7 billion users worldwide. It only took about three years. This Beijing-based private company has pushed a short video platform to the forefront of world public opinion in just three years. Especially during the COVID-19 outbreak, TikTok has become the best pastime during quarantine. Even in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, TikTok became one of the important communication tools. However, the US President Donald Trump issued a TikTok ban on the grounds that TikTok threatened US national security, and TikTok became more famous on the world’s social media platforms. In addition, unlike Facebook and Twitter, TikTok is real young. This also means that TikTok will develop faster among young people. Because of the young people are a mainstay force that cannot be ignored in contemporary society.
As a product of the shared information era, TikTok’s “new wave” has had a transformative impact on the Internet industry and all aspects of society (politics, economy and culture), and has profoundly affected our lives.
Transformative impact on the Internet Industry
There is no doubt that TikTok has seized the trend of the Internet’s transformation from the graphic era to the video era This is like in the 2G era, we can only communicate through text, and in the 3G era, we can communicate through a combination of graphics and text. And TikTok started directly from the 4G era, that is, video. New social media form plus new technology, make TikTok become a highly sophisticated product. For example, TikTok use big data to analyze the types of video that the audiences preferred before, make these video more frequent to appear than others. Therefore, the audiences would like to rely on the Internet, instead of helping by the Internet. TikTok promotes the subversion of the “traditional field” of the Internet to the “non-traditional field” (Wenjun Chen, 2019). Generally speaking, the “traditional field” is like the image of things that people see in daily life, such as the sky, food, or the clothes of ordinary people. Because these things can be seen every day, they form a fixed image pattern. There is nothing novel about things. If TikTok is to push these videos to users, obviously everyone is not interested in these commonplace things. On the contrary, everyone will be curious about the rare scenes, which is the part of the “non-traditional field” that I mentioned earlier. For example, outer space, or the scene under the microscope, etc. TikTok is relying on the user’s curiosity psychology, because the “non-traditional field” is something that is not in people’s daily visual field and thinking framework, and it naturally captures the audience’s attention. The music video products launched by TikTok are precisely focused on the“non-traditional field”. In the picture, a girl who has just woken up without makeup becomes a Diva in Peking Opera’s appearance with the turning point of the music, giving the audience a visual and auditory dual sensory stimulation.
Transformative influence on Politics
TikTok is not only a platform for entertainment, more and more national administrative agencies have registered official accounts on TikTok. Not only does it allow more citizens to participate in national politics in the most relaxed form of social media, but it also increases political transparency. The political activism that followed is also growing. In June of this year, US President Trump held his first campaign rally in months in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. As the number of people attending the rally was lower than expected, Trump had to cancel the open-air speech to the “mass” outside the venue. Before the start of the event, the Trump team claimed that a total of one million people had booked tickets for the rally. However, according to official data from the Tulsa Fire Department, only about 6,200 people registered on the day. TikTok users stated that they had completed the registration for the free online gathering, but did not intend to participate. After deliberately making a collective appointment, they collectively “released pigeons” (Reuters, 2020). This example illustrates the political power that TikTok has, but it also shows the attention of politicians.
Transformative impact on the Economy
The impact of TikTok on the economy is self-evident. Compared with the traditional economic model, the new economic model brought by TikTok is a disruptive change. With the help of TikTok, the rapid development of the online economic model has also driven its surrounding industries. The most famous of these is the “Internet celebrity economy” created by TikTok. The higher the target audience’s participation rate, the higher the advertiser’s conversion rate (Shane Barker, 2020). Some video creators who have a certain number of followers on TikTok, when the follower reaches a certain number, the creator can make cooperation suggestions to the brand, and create benefits for advertisers and themselves through their own attention and outflow. Some creators are not satisfied with generating revenue for advertisers. They even register their own brands and trademarks, and use their own popularity to create their own peripheral products for secondary profit creation. Based on TikTok is a free application, plus the new online economic model brought by TikTok, reducing a lot of unnecessary costs. TikTok not only promotes the development of the online economy, but also the offline economy has a certain driving effect. Due to TikTok’s diverse content, many cities have made urban promotional videos into short videos to promote them. During the Spring Festival of 2019, Xi’an City, known as the City of TikTok, received 12,694,900 tourists, and its tourism revenue reached 10.315 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 66.56%. This set of data is twice that of 2018 (Kuiyi, 2020). It is undeniable that the online economy has hit the offline real economy more severely than in previous years, but TikTok has indeed made outstanding contributions to the growth of the online and offline economies.
Transformative impact on Culture
TikTok has revolutionized the cultural form. From “restricted entertainment” to “free entertainment”. What I call “restricted entertainment” is the most traditional way of the entertainment industry, which is based on the old media entertainment (radio, paper, and movies, etc.) professionals using professional methods and equipment to carry out large-scale productions. The production cost is high, the cycle is long and the audience is small. Moreover, the creator and the audience will maintain a certain distance, lack of interactive process, which also lacks the resonance between them. The arrival of TikTok has simplified this matter. Any users on the platform can become a creator of cultural content without any standardization requirements for production standards. Then spread through social media. Every creator in the self-media era is the center of cultural content production and dissemination (James McPherson, 2020). The “free entertainment” model brought by TikTok is a subversive breakthrough to the traditional “restricted entertainment” model. This is more like a cultural change, and it also confirms that society is moving towards an era of information sharing.
One thing that is constant in TikTok is that it is always changing (Maria Keselj, 2020). TikTok has a very clear positioning of itself. In the early stages of development, they did not blindly pursue the number of users, but patiently tested and researched the product itself to lay the foundation for the surge in the number of users in the later stage. The fact is, TikTok did win the bet. After having a stable audience, TikTok began to operate and promote its own products, but at the same time it continued to improve product performance. On this basis, coupled with TikTok’s continuous innovation, and the rich video content of tens of millions of creators, audiences have developed “user stickiness” for short videos, which means that users are addicted to the TikTok platform, and have had a lot of rely. TikTok took the opportunity to cooperate with large e-commerce organizations (such as Alibaba) to commercialize its own video products, which is a new economic model derived from the “net celebrity economy” I mentioned earlier. In 2019, the total online sales of live broadcast rooms in China reached RMB 66.85 billion, an increase of 35% over last year (CNNIC, 2020). During the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, TikTok combined with Hubei Province, the most severely affected province, and multiple social media live broadcast platforms, invested tens of billions of outflow, launched 100 live broadcasts, and a number of measures to support rebuild work and production in Hubei. From the official launch of the event on April 8, 2020 to April 12, multiple platforms have helped Hubei sell 670,000 agricultural products, with a total amount of RMB 35.05 million (ByteDance, 2020). From this point of view, although TikTok has the largest user base and market, it has not created a market monopoly, but has instead formed a good market competition atmosphere. In addition, TikTok is regulated by the State Administration of Radio and Television of China and the State Internet Information Office of China, which fundamentally protects the interests of both developers and users from infringement.
Overall, TikTok has brought a transformative impact on society from the Internet, politics, economy and culture. It is not just a social media platform, but a product of the shared information era. TikTok seems to be more like a way of life, a new lifestyle created by the combination of artificial intelligence and mobile Internet, and it is quietly changing us world. Maria Keselj (2020) concluded that,
“The future is now, and the future is TikTok.
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