TikTok is actually one of the fastest growing social networks of the last years. The app originated from the acquisition of Musical.ly short videos sharing service by the Chinese company ByteDance. The same company was already running Douyin, a similar platform in China, then managed to replicate Douyin experience outside China and turned Musical.ly app into a complete new service that was built in the same way as Douyin was: the new service was called TikTok and then it has been adapted to meet Western markets and social media habits. This resulted in a platform more oriented to welcome influencers, trends to be started and then imitated by other creators, dance videos and other mostly amusing stuff, while Douyin in China features generally a bigger variety of content.
TikTok & The Dream Of Becoming Famous
TikTok achieved its success mostly among teenagers and, like it happened with other social network services in the past, it has unveiled the secret dream most people using these services have: becoming famous. Nowadays social media allow people to being potentially noticed by an undefined audience, this may make many social media users putting all their effort into following an apparently easy task: getting noticed by others and becoming famous.
TikTok exploited this secret dream by allowing its users to scroll among videos published by any creator and selected by an algorithm. When a creator opens TikTok app he is going to look at short videos coming from the whole network and not only from the followed accounts, so everyone has a chance to get noticed by an undefined number of users if it happens a video gets selected by the algorithm that rules the ‘For You’ section, the one that every TikTok user sees when they open the app. This may mean that every one can become famous on TikTok, and in fact this is what happened to several users of the app. In any school there may be at least one user having even 100.000 or 1 million followers on TikTok just for having the luck of being regularly featured by the algorithm. Is it true that TikTok has helped people achieve fame in a quick time? The answer is that there is much more to say than ‘TikTok makes people famous easily’.
Becoming TikTok Famous: The Big Illusion
If you are using the TikTok app you may notice that many accounts showing in the ‘For You’ section have a good amount of followers. On TikTok there are influencers like Charlie D’Amelio, who are truly famous to be spotted also on online blogs and other social media, each one with their good amount of followers. But as written before, even a schoolmate of yours may be famous on TikTok and maybe you barely know his name: as written before, many people on TikTok become famous just for having some videos chosen by the algorithm for being shown in the ‘For You’ section. What does it mean? It simply means that influencers like Charlie D’Amelio has gained fame in the same way everyone could gain it in any social media service: she got viral in short times and her followers appreciated her videos so much that her growth has been high. That’s a different story for someone who gets simply featured by an algorithm without being recognized by the most as an interesting creator that deserves to be followed in mass. Here we come to the next point: your famous schoolmate who has gained 100.000 followers by having some videos featured on the ‘For You’ is simply someone who got a temporary boost of visibility on the app. This mean high engagement with TikTok videos and new followers too, but this happens simply because other people, who didn’t care at first at this user, found themselves watching a video they found nice and interacted with it. They then managed to follow the creator because they liked the video, but still they are stuck into the idea they are simply following some nice contents on TikTok. They are not following a celebrity, someone who really stays in the mind of people for long time: they are simply following funny stuff on TikTok it happened to show at first because of an algorithm.
Have you ever noticed many unknown people that end up having 100.000 or even 1 million followers on TikTok, then have much less followers on Instagram and other social media? Only influencers that really achieved their success have enough fame to being followed on any social media platform, still many apparently famous TikTokers have simply their little moment of fame when they post videos in the app: when you look at their other social media profiles, you can see what’s really their level of popularity. This happens, again, when someone gets followed just because an algorithm showed their videos to other people. It’s like getting many visits to a website because you are using traffic exchange services or, to give an example still related to social network, opening a personal Facebook page and paying thousands dollars to advertise it to other people. You can open a Facebook page and post photos and videos in that page, then advertise them with paid ads service (mostly used by companies to promote their services and products): you are surely going to get hundreds or even thousands of interactions (depending on how much you pay), but are you really becoming famous for this? Definitely no: you are simply forcing Facebook (by paying) to show your stuff to other people who, otherwise, would have never thought to visit your page. This is more or less the same way ‘For You’ section of TikTok works: it forces other people opening the app to watch videos that are simply selected by an algorithm, not videos that these people actually decided to watch. That’s why most apparently famous people on TikTok are simply creators who are living an illusory fame that gets stuck into the app (this is something that maybe has been made in order to make people use more the app, as one, seeing high views in short times, may be convinced that TikTok is the best place to get famous in short time). When you take a look at their other profiles on Instagram or YouTube (if the creator has shared them in their TikTok profile) you can easily understand if this TikTok user is really famous (like well known influencers like Charlie D’Amelio, who have several followers on all the social media platforms and who are already considered web celebrities) or if is someone that is simply facing temporary fame because of an algorithm that boosted their videos in a single social media app. That does not mean being famous: that’s mean having the illusion of being famous.
© 2021 Alessio Ganci