TikTok Newsletter 61

Extremely Influential and Incredibly Opaque


This is Understanding TikTok – your weekly TikTok 🤸update. My name is Marcus. I am happy to announce: The newsletter is a featured publication on Substack this week. My latest report on TikTok for Mozilla Foundation is out. And I will talk about TikTok for Journalists: A new tool for audience engagement and fighting mis- and disinformation at Telling the Truth - Restoring Trust. A Conference on the Future of Journalism Education in Southern Africa next week. Here is my little Twitter thread on TikTok The News (german) from last week #StoryDay21.

Today we talk about:

🕵️‍♀️ Strategies for Studying TikTok
🏎️ Case Study: DRIVE beta
🧵 TikTok Analysis Threads

🕵️‍♀️ Strategies for Studying TikTok

For the last couple of months i have been investigating the platform ahead of the German Federal Election as TikTok researcher for the Mozilla Foundation. Compare Broken Promises: TikTok and the German Election in Newsletter 56.

In addition to the qualitative research on TikTok we conducted, we also tested out quantitative approaches. During the period July-Oct 2021, we worked with the Algorithmic Transparency Institute (ATI) and Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR)’s data team to comb through 366,062 unique TikTok videos that had been collected using Junkipedia, an investigative tool run by ATI.

In our latest report 👉 (english, german) we explain how the experiment was designed and what we observed on TikTok during the German election. If you are interested in the design of synthetic accounts that were programmed to engage on TikTok according to pre-defined criteria you might want to read this. Otherwise. Never mind.

But you should know that it is very difficult to simulate real user behavior on the app using automated methods right now. And of course: “We urge TikTok to develop meaningful transparency tools like an API or an ad archive to empower civil society oversight of the platform.” It was great fun working with the great people at Mozilla, ATI and BR. Special thanks to Becca Ricks for ping-ponging 🏓 all the way through.

🏎️ Case Study: DRIVE beta

DRIVE beta is a Berlin based digital studio with a great TikTok catalogue. They recently started a new TikTok Live Format called @livetalk (german). I used the opportunity to mail with Rike, their Head of Hochkant (Vertical).

Can you tell us a bit more about your TikTok projects please?

We started by launching five educational accounts as part of the German Creative Learning Fund #LernenMitTikTok — @doktorsex, @nachhaltigerleben, @insainsall, @behind_the_science and @mitreden. Later on, we also began our collaboration with the Goethe Institut to produce the @goetheinstitut.deutsch account for German learners. [Compare 🗺️ Case Study: Goethe Institute, Newsletter 36]

So far, @doktorsex has been the most successful and well-known account that we’ve produced. Although the account was initially launched from the German Creative Learning Fund, the success of the account has allowed us to extend the scope of our project by winning over DAK, a health insurance company, to be our new sponsor.

What are your 5 learnings concerning your TikTok related projects?

  1. If you want to tap into the young Gen Z, you HAVE to be on TikTok.

  2. A TikTok content can only be successful when it’s conceived and created as a TikTok video from start to finish. 

  3. Some brands are still afraid of being on TikTok but… 

  4. No one regrets it once they’ve taken the step. The result is just too good.


Where do you see untapped opportunities on the platform? 

The platform is growing by the minute and we believe that there are jackpots that are waiting to be discovered. We expect that a ton of NGOs, public service institutions, brands and anyone who wants to tap into Gen Z will want to establish a TikTok presence and we see a huge growth potential on all fronts. 

🧵 TikTok Analysis Threads

I have seen two great TikTok analysis Twitter threads recently. There is one by Ciarán O'Connor, Research & investigations at @ISDGlobal. I covered their investigation on Extremism and Hate Speech on TikTok [Compare Newsletter 54].  This time Ciarán focuses on Tags, Flags and Banners: Evaluating the Application of Information Resources on Vaccine Content on TikTok.

Striking to see that the results reflect our findings in Broken Promises: TikTok and the German Election: TikTok’s automated approach to labeling content about the German election with informational banners is not working effectively, with videos being improperly labeled.

And then there is another interesting one by Blyth Crawford, far-right extremism researcher in online radicalisation and research fellow @ICSR_Centre.

Blyth ends the thread with this striking quote: “extremist symbols are one of the clearest cut and most prominent signifiers of hate speech. There is no excuse for them to be so prominent on TikTok, and even less of an excuse for them to slip through the platform’s moderation process so consistently.”

🛰️ More from around the world

🌪️ Emma Pattee has written about the Climate Change Activists of TikTok for Wired. I have briefly touched on 🦭Climate Change in Newsletter 58 so i was happy to learn about “Thomas Schinko, leader of the Equity and Justice Research Group at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, says the storytelling aspect of TikTok is what makes it so effective...Schinko is leading a program that enables school-age students to become climate change ‘knowledge brokers.’ Part of the program involves a workshop on using positive storytelling strategies on TikTok.”

🇨🇱 In Chile, the new far right party is blowing up on Tiktok, tweets Kevin Munger, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Social Data Analytics at Penn State University. Read more on TikTok, el caballo de Troya de J.A. Kast con la Generación Z here. Or do as i do and paste chunks of it to Google Translate.  

👾 Low-tech video game streams are taking off on TikTok, writes Ana Diaz for Polygon. And i think you should know that.

🇹🇷 Turkey moves to deport Syrian migrants for eating bananas in a ‘provocative’ way on TikTok, writes the Washington Post.

🦉But then Duolingo's East Liberty offices reopened in September and everything changed. The reunification of its staff led to the eventual experimentation of new ways to use the account to interact with its then-paltry 50,000 followers. It also added two key new ingredients; incorporating a full-body costume of Duo, the company's green owl mascot, into the videos and using popular audio trends...writes Nate Doughty in this great piece

🏄‍♀️ You have a full body costume too? Good. Here is your guide how to create a TikTok trend. You might want to use the magic formula. Simple – essential. Universal – essential. Reactive – essential. Followers – helpful. Let me know if this worked out.

⚗️ Oh, and here is Tinca Lukan explaining sociology on TikTok (with Taylor Swift). Quote: there are two topics I am confident to say I know well - sociology and Taylor Swift songs. Hence, I combined them and made a series.

🪐 Please do not get me started on the entire Metaverse discourse. But i do like the technical setup behind this TikTok video. More infos in the thread. Speak soon. Ciao. And now enjoy your lukewarm Coca-Cola Zero Caffeine-Free.