SINGAPORE: Firing up TikTok, one quickly understands why the video-sharing app is such a hit with the young and the young at heart who increasingly live their lives in the public eye.
Immediately you are assaulted with a 15-second video clip set to music and often with the creator lip-synching along. It seems the perfect app for social media-addicted youth with their short attention spans.
Another 15-second clip plays each time you swipe up. Literally your 15 seconds of fame, on repeat mode.
This fun and oftentimes kitschy short-video platform has caught the imagination of people around the world. A New York Times columnist even dubbed TikTok as possibly “the only truly pleasant social network in existence”.
So who owns this hybrid platform of Snapchat and Vine?
The current incarnation of TikTok was born when Beijing-based tech company ByteDance merged its Douyin service with another rival, Musical.ly, bought for US$1 billion in late 2017.
As of June last year, it was reported to have 500 million users, but that number is expected to have grown since.
In fact, according to mobile data analytics firm App Annie, TikTok is the fourth-most downloaded app in the world across both iOS and Android app stores last year.
More surprisingly, it was the sixth-most downloaded app in Singapore in 2018, despite the company not having a presence here until late last December when it opened an office.
TikTok declined to reveal the number of users from Singapore when asked.
It did share that its first "challenge" which coincided with its Singapore launch last year garnered more than two million views, while the latest one #thisissingaporelah has amassed more than 650,000 views at the time of writing this. A challenge is like a themed video skit acted out by TikTok users with the designated hashtag included.
FUN AND FANS KEEP TIKTOK CREATORS TICKING
Channel NewsAsia spoke to two early adopters to find out what made them latch on to this relatively new social media platform.
Nurhayati Abdul Rahim, a financial consultant by day, is an avid TikTok creator by night. She downloaded the app last April after watching a video clip with its watermark on Facebook.
The app allows users to add sounds and song snippets from TikTok’s vast library of 15-second clips. There are also plenty of special effect options, filters, and an option to add videos they have created directly from their phone.
Ms Nurhayati posted her first lip-sync video that same month after familiarising herself with the app, she said during a recent phone interview.
The challenge to create better videos incorporating special effects kept the 32-year-old from leaving the platform despite its apparent appeal to a younger demographic.
“In my line of work, every day I see numbers and figures. It’s very stressful,” said Ms Nurhayati. “These videos (I make) bring some humour and fun to my life.”
Often times, these videos are created between 10pm and midnight as a means to unwind from the day’s activities, she shared, adding that she can produce between three and four video clips a week.
For Samuel Liew, another early adopter, his fans are what keeps him on the platform even though he had initially found some of the content “cringe-y”.
His more than 37,000 fans "are really supportive of my work,” the 23-year-old interior design student at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts shared.
He has even taken on the role of Agony Aunt with some of them, citing how a female teen fan from Germany got in touch with him to talk about being bullied in school but not wanting to tell her parents because they have been neglecting her.
“I advised her to talk to adults about this … and even got to speak to her mum once during a video chat,” he said, adding the teen is now “happier and more positive”.
His prominence on TikTok did not go unnoticed. He was approached by the company last July to produce content for the platform on a regular basis, even before it entered the Singapore market. He stressed that he was not paid to do so, though.
LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISSTEPS
Asked if they had come across inappropriate content such as nudity or hate speech on TikTok, both Ms Nurhayati and Mr Liew said the social media platform has been doing a “pretty good job” in moderating the online space.
Ms Nurhayati shared that there have been instances when followers asked for her phone number, while Mr Liew said his "haters" had threatened to hack his account and make public his home address. But they remain unperturbed as they said TikTok has been generally quick to act on such feedback.
It acted quickly in Indonesia when the government imposed a ban on the app last July following a petition that it contained inappropriate content. The ban was overturned a week later after TikTok agreed to moderate “negative content” and open an office in Indonesia to liaise with the government over content.
TikTok is working hard to grow its content moderation teams, said director for global communications Belle Baldoza.
“We are not complacent about this issue, and want to be ahead of the game by ramping up our hiring,” Ms Baldoza told Channel NewsAsia, adding that it is also hoping to avoid the same missteps that other social media platforms may have taken.
In 2018, Facebook was mired in the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal. It also faced criticisms that it did not do enough to moderate content. For example, it had ignored repeated warnings from organisations in Myanmar about social media posts attacking minority groups, and this concern was backed up by a human rights report it commissioned showing it did not do enough.
Along with growing its content moderation teams, TikTok is focused on international expansion, Ms Baldoza said. Monetisation is something it will think about further along the path, she added.
There is also a need to grow the awareness for the platform in Singapore.
Ms Doreen Tan, Singapore operations manager at TikTok, shared in the same interview that she hopes to grow the numbers organically through grassroots-led community engagement efforts.
This could be small scale workshops conducted by the app's “super users” to share how best to use certain features as well as tips and tricks. This could start as soon as end February, she said.
Ultimately, the company hopes to attract people who want to move away from the increasingly curated social media personas they themselves are creating on other platforms.
“With TikTok, you don’t have to create something to show that you’re in the time of your lives,” Ms Baldoza said.
“The 15-second video is simply your unvarnished self at a single point in time.”