this is Understanding TikTok – your (nearly weekly) TikTok update. My name is Marcus. I spoke to Zeit Online (german) about this whole leaked algorithm thing and obviously i said something like TikTok has lost some of its 🪄.
TikTok said that it started to tackle filter bubbles afterwards. I am not digging deeper here today. But here is an Insider-article: How TikTok's algorithm enables far-right self-radicalization and here is a WSJ-investigation: How TikTok Inundates Teens With Eating-Disorder Videos.
This week we talk about this stuff and then it is time for a holiday. Okay?
🍿 TikTok Kitchen and some other things
📜 History on TikTok
🏹 Soft Spot
🍿 Kitchen, Cats, no NFTs
It gets hard keeping track. TikTok is testing, launching, rolling out and quietly ending an increasingly large amount of features, things, and half baked ideas. Speaking of baking. TikTok is opening 300 restaurants to deliver some of its most viral food trends. Baked Feta pasta, anyone?
I listed some new features in last newsletter (#64) here are some more: TikTok rolls out GIPHY support, HD videos, cat sound effects, among other new features (Techcrunch, Dec 16). TikTok has a Discord now (Techcrunch, Dec 16). TikTok is testing a desktop streaming software called TikTok Live Studio (Techcrunch, Dec 15). And as mentioned above: TikTok is to diversify its ‘For You’ feed, let users pick the topics they want to avoid (Techcrunch, Dec 16), TikTok says. Oh, and do you want a repost-button? Here is one.
Interesting to see if there is media coverage when things do not work out as expected or are axed or never come to be. Like the whole NFT-thing i wrote about in newsletter #59. Well. TikTok tried, and failed, to make NFTs with pop stars, writes the Rolling Stone. Quote: “This entire project was rushed,” says one frustrated source involved in the rollout.
📜 History on TikTok
There are various forms of remembrance and dealing with history on TikTok. You probably remember #MedievalTikTok (2020), maybe you have seen Brian Smith (2021) who started a cross-generational dialogue about the past or you think about how everything happening right here right now (like Ralph Lauren promoting their Roblox virtual world through a TikTok campaign, feels pretty 2021 to me) will be remembered and seen in the year 2103.
Some weeks ago i held a talk at Ruhr-Universität Bochum where a couple of researchers are investigating how history takes place, can be analysed and produced on different platforms (namely Insta & TikTok) in a joint university project (more here in pure german). I wrote some questions to research fellows Mia Berg and Andrea Lorenz and got answers. Thx so much!
What are the challenges for historians using TikTok as a platform or as a source?
TikTok is playing an increasingly important role for historians as a medium for science communication and education. TikTok and its technical framework offer completely new and different narrative possibilities than, for example, a book or a blog. To become active on TikTok, we must also learn how to tell (hi)stories there.
Researching TikTok comes with two main challenges: Access to data (level of analysis) and media-specific narratives and storytelling (level of production).
The low production and access barriers have multiplied content, actors and practices which challenge the interpretative and discursive authority of established actors such as institutions or researchers. Social media are therefore characterised by a pluralisation and fragmentation of individual and collective memories and histories. For historians, understandings of the past and discursive negotiations of history become visible and analysable. However, the connection of narratives and media to (big) data structures and global companies leads to technical, ethical and legal challenges. APIs are necessary to archive and analyse the large amounts of data but are not (sufficiently) provided by the platforms so far. Therefore, a legal, automated collection of data is not possible. Processes of past-related hate speech or historical revisionism can therefore not be properly recorded and addressed at the moment. In addition, historians also often lack the technical skills to handle the research subject adequately and therefore depend on interdisciplinary cooperation.
What are your three favourite TikTok accounts tackling history? And why?
1. James Jones @notoriouscree: The account is part of the #NativeTikTok movement and an example how content creators address topics that have so far been underrepresented in traditional historiography – in this case Indigenous culture.
2. Lily Ebert & Dov Forman @lilyebert: Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert and her great grandson Dov show how a direct, participatory negotiation of history and memory can function on the platform and how the important topic of remembering the Shoa can be realised in a platform-compatible way. If you want to dive deeper, we recommend Doing Memory on TikTok by Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann and Tom Divon.
3. Hungryhistoriandy (Account not accessible / deleted): A hobby historian who deals with topics that are rather untypical for traditional historiography, such as historic food and make up. However, the account is unfortunately also a good example of the ephemeral nature of the medium: it was taken down and thus once again highlights a central challenge when researching TikTok.
What surprised you the most while having a closer look at TikTok from a historians perspective?
We were positively surprised by the complexity, variety and depth of past-related discourses on TikTok. Users question historical narratives presented to them and act as a critical corrective, discussing video content. They do this within the framework of the platform's media possibilities - be it as a comment or as a stitch. Of course this is just one side. We should not forget that TikTok is a platform where the young audience gets in touch with antisemitism.
🏹 Soft Spot
Beyonce has a TikTok account now. But she is not using it. And maybe this is not so very interesting at all. Given the fact that you could check out all these fantastic articles that Cat Zhang has written about TikTok for Pitchfork this year. Like this one: The Year in Music on TikTok 2021. Or this one: The Zoomer Embrace of Drum ’n’ Bass.
Where to start? You could start with Imogen Heap and an unreleased recording by the early ’00s British electropop duo Frou Frou and then work yourself forward to Clams Casino’s legendary cloud-rap instrumental I’m God and then you come to “moment” by the 20-year-old Sydney producer Vierre Cloud and then on to a Fortnite outro by a 17 year old and then on to an entire TikTok aesthetic trend where users record themselves organizing icons on their iPhone home screen.
You could learn more about Vocaloid a singing synthesis software that allows anyone to create songs. And TikTok has always had a solid base of vocaloid fans, and the creator @thquib got popular sharing vocaloid covers of TikTok-trending songs like Mitski’s “Washing Machine Heart” last year. Or you could listen to this drum ‘n’ bass gem. Or listen to Leith Ross all day. Or check out some good duets.
Joe Biden + Jonas Brothers + Bing Bong + Joe Byron
Okay. You probably know the first one. Joseph „Joe“ Robinette Biden, Jr is the 46th and current president of the United States. The Jonas Brothers are an American pop rock band. Formed in 2005, they gained popularity from their appearances on the Disney Channel television network. Bing Bong is a TikTok Audio Trend. And Joe Byron. Well, here is the KnowYourMeme-article.
Why should you care? The president of the United States appears in a TikTok video that is all about a TikTok meme with a band that is - well - famous on TikTok, filmed in the White House. This might have some impact on various politicians around the globe. Does anyone remember the Turnip for What Vine?
Coke + Chanel
Coca-Cola is trying out TikTok. Read more about it over on AdAge. Meanwhile Chanel is struggling in an advent-calendar depression, writes Business of Fashion. Good contextual read: Why are Luxury Brands Getting Left Behind on TikTok?
Plus 2021's weirdest TikTok beauty trends, a TikTok activist hits back at Kellogg's union-busting with some creative coding, Miss Excel, and some extremely specific content creators.
Hope you have some relaxing days. Thanks for reading. See you around.