TikTok May Have a Demographic Problem

It's trying to get rid of users under 13
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 18, 2020 4:35 PM CST
For TikTok, a Coming-of-Age Milestone?
In this 2018 photo, a girl holds her phone and logs into what was then the lip-sync smartphone app Musical.ly. The app later morphed into TikTok.   (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

TikTok is a wildly popular app for short videos, and it's especially popular with young users. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, some of those users are too young. The social media company is actively trying to rid the site of those 12 and younger, both for legal reasons and to try to expand its popularity with adults in order to survive. Details and related coverage, including the site's first known "I quit" essay:

  • A stat: Among 10-year-old girls with smartphones, an estimated 70% are on TikTok, according to use-tracking app Jiminy. And they're on about four hours a week, long enough to watch about 1,000 videos (and possibly interact with strangers). That means they've used phony info to set up an account, and the Journal interviews parents who have helped their kids do so. Overall, roughly 28% of TikTok's users were under 18 last year, according to company stats seen by the newspaper.
  • Origins: TikTok's first iteration was as Musical.ly, which frequently featured tween girls lip-syncing. Current TikTok videos often feature users singing, dancing, taking part in challenges (the New York Post rounds up some doozies) and generally being goofy. More than 40 million people downloaded the app last year.

  • Milestone: This month, a Cornell student published what is believed to be the first "I quit" essay in regard to TikTok, "an important rite of passage for any social app," observes Casey Newton of the Verge. The letter went viral.
  • That essay: In the Cornell Sun, Niko Nguyen explained that TikTok is too addicting ("the majority of my past winter break was spent on TikTok"), and that poses a risk: The app's "addictive nature and emphasis on performing online explain the stranglehold on today’s youth." As a result, it "has produced a legion of wannabe entertainers and influencers, giving the average high school student the illusion of a personal platform capable of launching them to TikTok fame."
  • Instant popularity: A piece at CNN expands on the above point, noting that TikTok posts are designed to go viral "more organically than on any other platform." Combined with its young user base, that does indeed result in at least some ordinary teens turning into viral sensations. The story angle is about "confused" parents trying to cope. One example of such a teen is the 14-year-old girl who created the "Renegade" dance sensation, which she performed at the NBA All-Star Game, per SB Nation. See video of the moves here.
  • Demo shift? TikTok Chief Executive Alex Zhu warned employees in 2018 that they must shift away from kids and toward older users, or risk fading into obscurity, reports the Journal. “This is our last chance,” he said. “If we fail, that’s it.” The company has since been trying to tighten protocols to weed out children.
(More TikTok stories.)

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