Just weeks before Twitter announced it was shutting down Vine, a fledgling startup called ByteDance in China just launched a new app in late 2016. Named Douyin, meaning “trembling sound” in Chinese, its premise was decidedly similar to Vine: Provide people with simple tools to create and share looping 15-second video.
Today, even if you haven’t heard of Douyin, you might have heard of TikTok -- especially if you’re the parent of teenagers.
It’s more or less the same app as Douyin, but the content is free from the watchful eyes of Chinese government censors. And just like the hundreds of millions of users in China who’ve grown addicted to Douyin’s endless stream of clips, more and more people around the world are now joining the TikTok party.
There are many reasons to use Douyin or TikTok. As a video editing tool, it lets you easily transform smartphone-recorded, homemade videos into social-worthy clips. Just like how Instagram’s color filters help transform regular snaps into stunning images, TikTok’s filters and lenses add funky special effects to your video.
You can make it rain popcorn, switch virtual makeup with the swipe of your hand, or put on neon lighting… and combine each of those clips into one single video (as long as it’s no more than a minute long). What’s more, you can choose from a vast library of background tracks that include the latest pop hits.
Mostly, people use the platform to show off their dance moves, do comical skits, and perform silly stunts. Just now, I saw people use their heads to play ping pong... with what looks like a volleyball. (TikTok does add warnings to certain videos when the activity portrayed is deemed potentially dangerous.)
For those of you who aren’t keen to get your 15 seconds of fame on TikTok, you can just browse through the endless feed of user-generated videos from around the world.
After TikTok merged with Musical.ly in August 2018, the app combined users from everywhere (except China, where Douyin remains fenced off as a standalone app). That includes stars like Ariana Grande and Maroon 5. Jimmy Fallon also signed up late 2018.
TikTok’s global reach has earned it a wide following, but it’s also run into troubles. Indonesia temporarily blocked the app in July 2018, accusing it of hosting pornography and blasphemy. The ban was lifted after the government said TikTok agreed to censor content.
Before that, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that it found sexually suggestive videos of children on TikTok, as well an adult man courting teenage girls. A TikTok spokesman told the SCMP it had protective measures in place, such as privacy settings, keyword filters, and procedures to remove inappropriate content.