You are reading Understanding TikTok. 100% conceived and written by a human being. My name is Marcus. I am a research fellow at HAW Hamburg. This is the pre-ICA edition from Toronto, Canada.
Today we talk about
🍿 Montana: Can you ban TikTok
🦉 Duolingo: Is it possible to twerk in the suit
🔬 Content Moderation: Not working
🇱🇻🇪🇸🇵🇱 TikTok & Elections: New research
🍿 Montana: Can you ban TikTok?
The eighth-least populous and third-least densely populated US state Montana (Wikipedia) wants to state-wide ban TikTok with effect Jan. 1. 2024 (New York Times). “To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party” as governor Greg Gianforte tweeted while signing a bill.
Can it be enforced? “It will be extremely difficult — if not impossible — to adequately enforce the law”, a cybersecurity expert told AP. A lobbyist for AT&T said the legislation was “not workable” to put into effect. It would be difficult for app stores to isolate a single state (Montana has 200,000 TikTok users) from downloading an app. TikTok could block itself but a geolocation based ban could be easily bypassed with a VPN.
The real thing here of course is to create a precedent. The “other side” was prepared to react and did so. A group of TikTok creators have sued to block Montana’s ban of the platform, arguing that the new law violates their first amendment rights (Guardian). Followed by Tok that filed a suit against Montana. It alleges that the ban violates the US Constitution as well as other federal laws, according to a complaint filed in Montana District Court. The company also claims concerns that the Chinese government could access the data of US TikTok users — which are a key motivation behind the ban — are “unfounded”(CNN).
What’s next? "We expected legal challenges and are fully prepared to defend the law that helps protect Montanans' privacy and security," Emily Flower, a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Justice, said in a statement (CBC).
🦉 Duolingo: Is it possible to twerk in the suit?
Have we yet talked about the big green owl? The American educational technology company Duolingo is widely discussed as” a case study in social-first marketing success” (campaign) especially for going viral on TikTok with an overnight success that took 18 months (techradar) to get up to to 6.6M followers—more than brands like Disney (4.1M), Apple (2.8M), and Nike (4.3M).
Rex Woodbury (Digital Native) has interviewed “the woman behind the scenes—24-year-old Zaria Parvez”. Some good take-aways here about e.g. falling “into the same trap of doing what we’ve always done and not really adapting to what people expect from content on the platform”. Compare platform specifics in #100. Looking back the idea for the account strategy sounds pretty simple. And brilliant too. “I re-evaluated our failed strategy and pitched the idea of Duo [Duolingo’s owl mascot] being a creator himself.” The tipp here: “Be bold or go home.”
Looking ahead: “it’s harder to go viral” Something that has been echoed by many brands and creators. Views are on a steady decline and follower growth is lagging (AdWeek). Looking back at the last year and a half, there has been a decrease in the number of viral hits (classified as any video with over 10 million views). Seems natural for a platform that is maturing and has become mainstream.
AdWeek: Marketers need to adjust their strategies to this evolving landscape. The era of instant virality is receding, demanding a patient approach and realistic expectations.
🔬 Content Moderation: Not working
Chris Stokel-Walker sheds some light on TikTok’s content moderation (problems) in this article here following the case of a TikTok “prankster” that (thankfully) got arrested.
“TikTok has 40,000 content moderators working around the world. However, that number pales in comparison to the content they’re expected to adjudicate on. A 2020 statement to parliament suggested British TikTok users posted 1.6 million videos a day to the platform – a number likely to have risen significantly. Not all those videos will be seen by a human. TikTok’s content moderation system works first by using artificial intelligence (AI), specifically computer vision, to sift out any videos likely to break its rules. Those videos are then sent to a human moderator to mark the AI’s homework….TikTok’s army of human content moderators only have seconds to decide whether content breaches the platform’s rules. One current moderator told me they are tasked with checking 1,000 videos in a single shift, which requires rapid decisions – and can result in some videos slipping through the net.”
Neither AI, nor content moderators are meanwhile capable of detecting false information that e.g. consists of authentic footage that is re-contextualized. I have written about this strategy in my Mozilla investigation Broken Promises: TikTok and the German Election (2021) where a false TikTok account of Germany’s federal parliament (@derbundestag) was used to spread political propaganda by re-contextualizing right-wing parliamentary speeches.
🇱🇻🇪🇸🇵🇱 TikTok & Elections: New research
While preparing to dig into TikTok and elections i stumbled over this really interesting article on the usage of TikTok in the Baltics: Latvia is the first of the Baltic states where a TikTok party has been elected to parliament. Before the elections, their star was an unemployed young woman with a high-school diploma, but her videos had received millions of likes. Even though the number of TikTok users is fairly similar in all of the Baltic states, in Latvia the platform is used by populist politicians spreading Kremlin-friendly messages. It doesn’t play a role in politics in Estonia and Lithuania yet.
With a couple of European elections ahead i want to focus on the spread of mis- and disinformation during election phases. Poland will vote a national parliament in October with Poland’s conservative ruling party joining TikTok to challenge “radical anti-PiS messages” (Notes From Poland). The 2023 Spanish general election will be held in December with Spanish political parties stepping up their TikTok game. Some articles: Securing the Youth Vote: A Comparative Analysis of Digital Persuasion on TikTok Among Political Actors (Media & Communication). TikTok and Political Communication: The Latest Frontier of Politainment? A Case Study (Media & Communication). Research on Digital Political Communication: Electoral Campaigns, Disinformation, and Artificial Intelligence (Societies). Please hit me up if you want to investigate TikTok, elections and disinformation in Europe.
Maybe you missed
🎾 Earn $1,000 to scroll TikTok for 10 hours straight (Insider)
🎾 Special Issue: TikTok and Social Movements (Social Media + Society)
🎾 AI alternate realities on TikTok (Insider)
🎾 The Influencer to Social Media Manager Pipeline (dot.la)
🎾 How TikTok took over the menu (grubstreet)
🎾 For Gen Z, Playing an Influencer on TikTok Comes Naturally (NYT)
🎾 TikTok users are falling down rabbit holes where feature films are offered one 10-minute clip at a time (Atlantic)
🎾 Call for papers for TikTok Creators and Digital Economies Symposium (London College of Communication)
🎾 2023 content (Taylor Lorenz)
🎾 The blue couch (The tab)
Thanks for reading. Speak soon.
Thank you for sharing this. We were just talking about the Montana decision and if it will impact TikTok in the future as we are starting to expand our work there. And thank you for this newsletter. I need to better understand tik Tok!