Internet phenomenon Tiktok was launched in 2016 – originally with the name Musical.ly – and since then it has experienced an incredibly rapid growth, especially from 2017 onwards; today, it is one of social media’s giants. In fact, data have indicated that Tiktok was most downloaded app in 2020, with 99.8 million downloads in the first six months and more than 850 million active users. With this many people on one network, information and trends can spread incredibly fast. Therefore, the debate should not focus on whether Tiktok has shaped our society in significant ways: instead, we must ask ourselves, in what ways has this app influenced our society, and to what extent?
"TikTok is the home for music trends that permeate the industry, charts and culture" - Ole Obermann
Tiktok has become an integral part of music discovery. By connecting artists to their fans, transforming and co-creating music, it has helped emerging artists succeed in the music world. As Ole Obermann, TikTok’s Global Head of Music said, "TikTok is the home for music trends that permeate the industry, charts, and culture.” In fact, some well known artists, such as Dixie d’Amelio, Loren Gray, or Lil Nas X (known for his “one time hit”), have become famous through TikTok. Moreover, research gathered from MRC Data reveals powerful numerical evidence that demonstrates the connection between the app and the music industry. Specifically, it shows that “the majority of TikTokers not only discover new music on TikTok but also hear songs they don't hear anywhere else. 75% of TikTok users say they discover new artists through TikTok and 63% of TikTok users heard new music that they've never heard before on TikTok.”
Tiktok undoubtedly influences the way people react to music and follow trends: whether people are aware of it or not, the app it has the power to influence people’s actions, implying that it has been able to shape consumer culture. From clearing shelves thanks to #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, to driving luxury fashion trends, to hearing your friends say "I saw this thing on TikTok" every day, 71% of users believe the biggest trends start on the popular social network. Based on Flamingo’s research, it was found that 43% of users decide to try something or go somewhere new after seeing it at least once on the platform. As a result, businesses are greatly impacted by TikTok because of its heavy influence on consumerism. Over the past years, many brands have applied TikTok language as part of their marketing strategy. Since 61% of users like brands better when they create or participate in a Tiktok “trend”, this strategy has helped them reach a broader and younger audience, leading to a positive impact for the company. Ryanair, Marvel, Zara, Gymshark, Nando’s, Glossier, BMW, Levi’s, British Red Cross and Prada are among the brands that used Tiktok in order to successfully increase customer engagement. From this list, it is clear that its impact is not limited to certain industries: from airlines to makeup brands, if the connection created between the brand and TikTok users thrives, the company will surely benefit from it.
Despite its efforts to disregard politics as part of the platform, Tiktok is a space where people can be gathered and pressed into action quickly, which extends its influence, even if indirectly, to politics. The app has now become a prominent center for ideological formation, political activism and also trolling. A well-known political event in which Tiktok played a significant role and disclosed the power it may have over politics was Trump’s rally for his presidential campaign; TikTok users reserved thousands of seats at the rally but they did not show up, causing the event venue to be largely empty. This was a wake up call for many politicians, especially Trump's administration, which inspired the former American president to attempt the enforcement of a ban on TikTok in the U.S. Even if the federal judge fully blocked this attempt, the company claimed it removed over 6 million videos that violated their content policy and guidelines. Moreover, in the days leading up to the elections, users filled their “for you page” with thousands of videos requesting U.S. citizens to go out to vote and “make a difference”. Not surprisingly, this had a major influence on the elections, as the voter turnout in 2020 was the highest it has been in the last 120 years.
TikTok has a great impact on how we function as a society today. From music to consumerism and politics, it has shaped the way we think and act. It is important to point out that these three are only few of the many ways in which the app influences our everyday life. With a never-ending stream of videos, there is seemingly no way to get bored on the app, and even if we are not direct users, we must acknowledge the many ways in which this app has gained and continues to gain power over us.