Will famous TikTok people stay famous

Video app : TikTok: This is not about teenagers, it's about kids

Berlin - A dance goes around the world - it's called "Renegade". It's a formation dance. Millions of children swing their forearms to the right and left, let them circle around each other and wave their hands in front of their faces. Every child wriggles alone, at the dining table, at the bus stop. It looks funny, like cute little fish on a hook.

But why are they all wriggling the same? What gigantic choreography are the children following? Your counterpart is not a person, but the Chinese app TikTok, an artificial product made of algorithms and marketing tools. Hardly any child with a smartphone can evade it. Here people dance to the beat of the machine. It only goes for a few seconds.

TikTok has been around for four years. The company behind it is called ByteDance, based in Beijing, and is one of the most expensive start-ups in the world. Hardly any other app has gained such popularity in such a short period of time. TikTok is currently the biggest phenomenon on the net. With a billion monthly users, the app has overtaken competitors like WhatsApp.

TikTok offers kids and teens musical set pieces, commercial hits, filters and cutting tricks that they can use to make short dance or fun videos of themselves. Due to the lip synchronization, the films are reminiscent of karaoke performances. The users naturally make their videos available to the company. That then chooses carefully. Teams of employees called "moderators" decide according to the company's specifications and sort by country which video snippets go into which drawer, what is pushed, what is not and what is to be deleted. Algorithms do the rest.

It is extremely difficult to get a closer look at how the company works. There is also no organizational chart on request. While TikTok thrives on data, it hardly reveals any data about itself. Number of employees? The user? Turnover and profit? Will not be answered on request. TikTok is extremely opaque, the user is transparent.

If you take a closer look at the TikTok stars, people are pushing who is not too young or too old, not too ugly, who does not come from a slum, does not have a shabby apartment, who does not convey political messages, who does not infect anywhere. The most successful TikTokers land in the "For You" feed, where everyone can see them immediately. They get an audience of millions and thus become celebrities in the TikTok bouncy castle and far beyond.

Because the smooth baits are best for attracting new schools of small fish. The company has invented new names for customers and products. Instead of users, the wriggling little fish are called "Creator" at TikTok. The bait are the "tiktoks", short video snippets. Whoever follows them is no longer a “follower”, but a “player”. Their greatest wish is to land on the hook, to become a zapper, a real creator, followed by thousands or even millions.

TikTok is much more than just a video platform, it is a social media community in which dancing children and young people can exchange ideas, of course according to the rules of the app. If a hit is chosen particularly often as background music for its own video, it goes viral. Like the Renegade Dance to the music of the rapper K. Camp.

The children and teenagers swipe their smartphones at a breathtaking pace. You don't have to register on TikTok first. Anyone who has downloaded the app - which is free and easy - can view everything right away. That is extremely tempting. The TikTok world is a children's paradise, although the platform is only officially allowed from 13 - which is still a child's age under German law. The App Store says 12+. TikTok seems made for children, because they find themselves in this world: it has the simplest dances ready, funny pranks, animal films, tricks, make-up tips.

Everything seems nice, harmless and happy. The dancing creators are neat, the girls are nicely made up with straw-length colored fingernails, often bare feet, the boys mostly in jogging outfits. The backdrop is usually your own home, nicely furnished, the walls white, the kitchens quite empty and clean, every now and then a crumpled mother appears in the background. The TikToks seem to come from an inner world, as if Corona had always existed. It is the inner world of the mainstream that the TikToker are at home.

In this global digital children's bouncy castle, despite its infantile character, there is a word that is seldom used: children. The company itself tries to speak of young people as much as possible. A German spokeswoman writes that the target group are 18 to 30 year old users. But why does a lot of things seem so childish on TikTok? Heidi Klum looks at her TikTok account like a clown over glasses that are way too big, soccer stars like Lewandowski clumsily step through the picture, the users' self-made skits under the hashtag of a mail-order company's advertising campaign tend to make first graders laugh.

Could it be that everyone is fishing for children here, but nobody wants to admit it? The American TikTok star Coco Quinn, for example, wears her hair bleached, lasciviously sucks an ice cream and is dressed up as if she were a teenager. She is eleven. It's not a secret either. Is Coco a role model for eighteen year olds? Or for eight year olds?

In Germany, children can also get advice on TikTok. For example, with a man who calls himself “Mr. Lawyer” there. This gentleman, with a big watch, tie and office furniture in the background, always does “a minute of law” for his followers and also answers children's questions here. He is already followed by over a million young viewers. When one was allowed to use TikTok, he was asked. The lawyer looks mischievously into his camera and suspects that many of the questioners might only be twelve.

He also gives tips - gladly on request. For example, what to do when the players see half-naked women. There are numerous female teenagers on TikTok who are extremely physical. After all, there is a lot of dancing here. So what to do if you come across porn, for example, explains Mr. There is nothing he can do about it, he says, but you should report that to the company yourself. Problem solved.

The minute is up again for Mr. Lawyer, but he can always be reached. Not by email, not even by phone, but via TikTok. That seems to work as well as with the Pied Piper from Hamelin. TikTok is especially useful for people like Mr Lawyer or Coco Quinn. What matters is your own range. The catch in your own net. Everyone is their own start-up here.

There is one more noticeable blemish that reveals a lot about TikTok's mechanism. It is actually less of a mistake than the price of the favor. Much, it seems, that is not so nice and smooth is being pushed aside by the marketing team or the algorithms. When watching the videos, it seems as if a fat teenager has fewer chances than a thin one, a pimply less than a make-up one, a poor one less than a rich one, and a black less than a white one. Officially, the company wants to protect users from bullying. Critics call this “ghosting”: pushing someone away because he or she might not sell well.

The best example is the Renegade dance. He pushed a fifteen-year-old white teenage girl to the front on TikTok: Charli D’Amelio. She is considered the TikTok queen with almost 50 million followers. Like many others, she had seen a girl from Atlanta who was a year younger than her dance, Jalaiah, who can dance a lot better but is black. Her room isn't as nice as Charli's, either. And their choreography is far too complicated. Of course, it is almost impossible to protect the copyright of covered short dances.

In this case, however, even the "New York Times" reported about it in February. A PR professional, Charli D'Amelio then invited the girl to join the TikToken. Obviously, TikTok isn't about who can dance best, it's certainly not about originality or art. It's about finding the perfect mainstream. The mediocrity that does not overwhelm anyone, but still attracts most.

Charli D’Amelio is the perfection of this claim. She dances well, but in such a way that everyone can do it. She is not dressed too revealingly, has a perfect permanent grin, a pretty sister, presentable white parents, a beautiful home. This can be optimally exploited on TikTok. So it's not just the followers who decide who comes forward. First of all, it is the company.

The harmless facade is deceptive. If you have a TikTok account, you can also receive comments. Cybergrooming opens the door to the harassment of children through verbal abuse by adults. Two years ago, the federal and state competence center for the protection of children and young people on the Internet documented attacks on TikTok.

Adults tried to use comments to encourage minors to engage in sexual activity. That is why the company has only wanted to allow the comment function from sixteen onwards since April. Bullying is also common. In Bravo you can read how much Charli D’Amelio is suffering from this. The lesson that children could learn from this: It can't be that bad if you're rich and famous for it.

However, the most unpleasant thing for the company is apparently political statements. This is where the app differs noticeably from other social networks. Because there is hardly any political happening here. Which is surprising when the target group is 18 to 30 years old. The company does not want to accept this and points out, among other things, that the “Tagesschau” is now also on TikTok. Anyone who listens to the daily TV announcer Jan Hofer there, however, feels almost like being on “Sesame Street”.

If you enter "Joshua Wong", the name of one of the most prominent student leaders of the protest movement in Hong Kong, where TikTok is also used, you will find a few people with the same or similar name, but with tiny follower numbers and zero videos. Isn't anyone interested in Joshua Wong on TikTok? Hashtags like Falun Gong or Tiananmen also have hardly any followers on TikTok. From Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to Reporters Without Borders, many have their doubts as to whether censorship is taking place here. Officially, the company says that no data will be censored or passed on to China.

But there is a teenage girl who has cheated TikTok. To do this, she had to act like a conspirator. It's the American Feroza Aziz. In a short video that looks like she is giving make-up tips, she urges her followers to find out about the oppression of the Uyghurs by the Chinese state. She says that as she curls her eyelashes. Shortly thereafter, her account was shut down. Officially, the company put forward other reasons. But the press had reported extensively.

Now the clip can be seen again. But not in China. Because there is no TikTok in the Middle Kingdom. Not even in Hong Kong. ByteDance provides a similar app called Douyin. Are Chinese children allowed to question the lawyer and admire precocious Lolitas like Coco Quinn? Why is TikTok all over the world but not in China? What is the difference between Douyin and TikTok? TikTok Germany says you should ask ByteDance about that.

Someone should know the differences. Chinese Zhang Yiming, founder of ByteDance and developer of TikTok, with an estimated net worth of 16 billion US dollars. The late thirties studied at an elite Chinese university. He then worked for Microsoft, among others. A half-sentence on his Wikipedia entry makes you sit up and take notice. At Microsoft, he felt hindered by the company's corporate rules.

The man created his own empire in the People's Republic of China. Nobody seemed to hinder him here. Yiming has built a gigantic puppet theater. The performance is already running and the tiers keep getting full. You can't see who pulls the strings. There is a ghost in the world. But it doesn't look like communism. It looks like our children. They dance.