TikTok, social media platform designed for creating, editing, and sharing short videos between 15 seconds and three minutes in length. TikTok provides songs and sounds as well as filters and special effects that users can add to their videos. Users also have the option to upload videos from their own devices to TikTok. TikTok is available to people in most countries around the world. China has a separate version called Douyin that has the same basic functionality but includes content of interest to the Chinese public.
Short-form videos initially achieved popularity in 2013 thanks to Vine, an app that allowed users to create and share clips that were just six seconds long. The following year saw the debut of Musical.ly, a Chinese social media platform that allowed for longer videos (from 15 seconds to one minute). It originally focused on the lip-synching craze, offering thousands of songs to which users could make entertaining lip-synching and dance videos. Musical.ly quickly gained popularity, especially among American teenagers, and within a few years it had tens of millions of users. At the end of 2017 the Chinese company ByteDance acquired Musical.ly for some $800 million. In the summer of 2018 ByteDance merged all the content and user accounts of Musical.ly into TikTok.
TikTok users can make and share videos on any topic. Comedic and educational videos are common, and others challenge users to dance, to lip-synch, or to complete a nonsensical act, such as rolling on the ground like a tumbleweed. TikTok provides guidelines for submissions, but sometimes users post dangerous or illegal content, such as dares that involve safety risks. One challenge sparked a wave of car thefts across North America after TikTok users demonstrated a security flaw in certain models of Kia and Hyundai vehicles. Critics, as well as the owners of the app, advise users to remain cautious about the type of stunts they choose to perform and share. Likewise, they suggest that parents regulate their children’s activity on TikTok. To that end, TikTok has added a feature that monitors screen time and allows users to set reminders to take breaks.
Regulators in the United States and the European Union have expressed privacy, safety, and security concerns about TikTok. They point out that the Chinese-owned business collects personal information on its users, and critics argue that the company might not be able to keep the information safe from the Chinese government. The Chinese government, in turn, could use the information to keep people under surveillance or to carry out other criminal acts. Critics also suggest that if Chinese authorities interfere with TikTok, they could influence millions of U.S. citizens by controlling what they watch. In December 2022 U.S. Pres. Joe Biden signed a law prohibiting TikTok on U.S. government-issued devices; after determining that the app presented a cybersecurity risk, the European Commission and the government of Canada enacted similar bans. Nevertheless, by the early 2020s more than one billion people worldwide were regularly using TikTok.