TikTok Newsletter 45

Po£itical Ad$. Your Data, My Data. Next, Next, Next. Khaby Lame


This is Understanding TikTok your weekly TikTok dossier 📫. My name is Marcus.

TikTok was the most downloaded non-gaming app worldwide for May 2021. “Oops! We did it again”, writes Paula Kornaszewska, Head of Operations Central and Eastern Europe TikTok on LinkedIn. If you want to investigate the “again-part” click here

Apart from that i spotted some newbies: The Deutsche Bahn AG, a German railway company (@deutschebahn) is now on TikTok. If you happen to understand german you should check out the comments section. On fleek. You are not into trains? Here is Alicia Silvestone.

Today we talk about:

🤑 Po£itical Ad$
👾 Your Data, My Data
🛸 Next, Next, Next
🏆 Khaby Lame

🤑 Po£itical Ad$

While TikTok doesn’t sell political ad space, a new study from Mozilla (PDF) found political orgs are paying TikTok influencers to publish talking points masked as organic opinion. (Fast Company, June 3, 2021) Quote: “Mozilla’s research suggests that political groups are very aware of this blind spot and are exploiting it. Geurkink and Ricks found more than a dozen TikTok influencers that have undisclosed paid relationships with various political organizations in the U.S.”

In comparison to e.g. Instagram TikTok does not require content creators to disclose paid partnerships by using a tool. Mozilla: “In practical terms, this means that political advertising on the platform is going unregulated and unmonitored. And combined with an overall lack of transparency into advertising, there is ample opportunity for political influence to happen under the radar on TikTok.” 

Mozilla used an API wrapper created by David Teather, to query the TikTok API. Besides paid partnerships for political influence recent reports indicate that some influencers were “urged to criticize Pfizer vaccine” (NYT, May 26, 2021). So you better look twice and start questioning motivation and authenticity when scrolling.

👾 Your Data, My Data

Okay, please click here. Turn up the volume. And read on. TikTok just gave itself permission to collect biometric data on US users, including ‘faceprints and voiceprints’, writes Techcrunch. Sounds creepy? Well, “other social networks do object recognition on images you upload to power accessibility features (like describing what’s in an Instagram photo, for example), as well as for ad targeting purposes.”

Identifying where a person and the scenery is can help with AR effects. The more concerning part concerns biometric data. TikTok is pretty vague here. And it does not explain why it needs this data. Speaking of which. TikTok (like other social media companies) automatically collects information about users’ devices, including location data based on your SIM card and IP addresses and GPS, your use of the app and all the content you create or upload, the data you send in messages on its app, metadata from the content you upload, cookies, the app and file names on your device, battery state and even your keystroke patterns and rhythms, among other things.

This is in addition to the “Information you choose to provide,” which comes from when you register, contact TikTok or upload content. In that case, TikTok collects your registration info (username, age, language, etc.), profile info (name, photo, social media accounts), all your user-generated content on the platform, your phone and social network contacts, payment information, plus the text, images and video found in the device’s clipboard. 🤔

🛸 Next, Next, Next

Another piece of great reporting by Taylor Lorenz: Many people who have found fame on TikTok are struggling with mental health issues (NYT, June 8, 2021). The piece is echoing a sentiment described in earlier reports about e.g.influencer anxiety.

Despite nearly endless success stories, there is obviously a growing dark side including competition, harassment, burn out, pressure, precarity, and algorithmic arbitrariness. Many creators say they have reached a breaking point. 

Quote: “A lot of older TikTokers don’t post as much, and a lot of younger TikTokers have ducked off,” said Devron Harris, 20, a TikTok creator in Tampa, Fla. “They just stopped doing content. When creators do try to speak out on being bullied or burned out or not being treated as human, the comments all say, ‘You’re an influencer, get over it.’” Question: Who brings back innocent fun and ease?

🏆 Khaby Lame

A former factory worker in Italy has become the fastest-growing content creator on TikTok (NYT, June 2, 2021). In the last 30 days, Khabane Lame, known by his TikTok username @khaby.lame, has become the fourth most-followed person on TikTok, behind Bella Poarch, Addison Rae, and Charli D’Amelio. The 21 year-old Senegalese national worked in a factory in Italy until blowing up online.

Khaby made a name for himself by posting funny reaction videos. With people constantly posting "life hacks" that will make your daily activities easier, the TikToker just does the task in a "normal" manner. (Distractify, May 18, 2021)

As Khaby himself puts it, his muted reactions help his videos speak a “global language.” Khaby parodies absurd viral content that appeals to a global audience. His reactions are like the TikTok version of America’s Funniest Home Videos - underproduced, unaffiliated, and easy for everyone to enjoy. (Publish Press, June 4, 2021)


That is that. I leave you with 6 TikTok trends creatives need to know about. You might have heard about several ones if you are an avid reader of this newsletter (Sheesh) and the mixture is a bit strange, but the article includes a great sentence: “Make a bit of effort, and you'll soon have a better idea of how modern youth culture works.” 🧢 Okay. Ciao.