Each decade has its dominant gesture and this one is the
, the movement that is made with the finger on TikTok (and also on Tinder and Instagram Reels) to indicate that our pupils are ready for a new stimulus.
Next, give me more, he demands that finger, and the algorithm serves it to him.
The offer never ends.
More than 1,000 million people do it every day who have downloaded the social network that has knocked down all other digital brands, by any metric.
Last year, TikTok had more visits than Google (normal, many users use it as a search engine) and more minutes spent than YouTube.
Facebook, now called Meta, took nearly nine years to reach the magic number of 1 billion
, in English).
TikTok has done it in five.
In some way, it is the social network that sublimates and improves those that came before it.
Unlike Twitter, which is based on words, TikTok captures the user's attention in a more forceful way, with videos that are usually enriched with music and text, and that can now last up to 10 minutes, much longer than the 15 seconds that they stuck to the beginning.
To use it, it is not necessary to have a previous network of friends and acquaintances there who serve content and make it interesting, as happened in the beginnings of Facebook and Instagram.
All you have to do is enter, go to the “for you” tab and let yourself be carried away by the
, the content flow, and its algorithm, which is astonishingly accurate.
Last year, several reporters for
The Wall Street Journal
They investigated this engine by creating hundreds of fake profiles on TikTok and came to the conclusion that in just 40 minutes of observation, the application has already found out what makes that user vibrate and, by extension, of course, what they want to buy.
Brands know this and are deriving a large part of their budget and communication strategy there.
"In TikTok you don't even have to follow someone to see their content, it requires less effort on the part of the user, and perhaps that's why it has replaced Twitter and Instagram, which in the past decade were the reference
," says Kyle Chayka, American journalist specializing in technology and Internet culture, a regular on the pages of
The New Yorker
, who is preparing a book on what he has dubbed "algorithmic culture."
This is how he refers to everything that exists precisely because the algorithm wants it (“the songs that became popular on TikTok, the aesthetics associated with Instagram, the Netflix template for all film and television scripts, the Twitter discourse”) and which, according to him, contributes to impoverishing the culture and generating more passive consumers.
Of all those algorithms, TikTok's is now the one that commands the most over popular taste.
If the singer and actress Olivia Rodrigo is a star, it is because she was born there, as was the expression
, the silent resignation that she talked about so much last year.
If a song from 1977 (like
, by Fleetwood Mac) is heard again in a massive way, it is because a
, Nathan Apodaca (user 420doggface208 on TikTok), put it in the background of one of his videos, and if Rosalía started chewing gum before singing
it's because he probably intuited that the gesture would be replicated millions of times on TikTok.
When someone has a foamy shake made with Nescafé for breakfast or baked pasta with feta for dinner, it's because those recipes, which have a trick-revealed component, have been successful there before.
What is changing as the platform nears its zenith is how many of those hits are born spontaneously and how many have been dreamed up and promoted by a company that pays to make it happen.
“Companies now exercise much more influence over what content appears in the
and the objective is to show us ads,” says Chayka —according to data from a Kantar study commissioned by TikTok itself, 67% of users appreciate ads and the 93% have "jumped into action" after watching a video, that is, they have done or bought something influenced by the content.
On TikTok this feels less outrageous because it was born that way, without promising to see friends there, while Instagram and Twitter have strayed from their original missions and filled
"Hacking this algorithm is less and less possible," says Gemma Galdón, an analyst focused on cybersecurity and ethical aspects related to technology.
That is, fiddling with it to make sure we see only what we want.
“All networks can afford the luxury of not earning money in the early years, when they live on investment funds, and that is when they feed the illusion that the user generates their own content, but as that investment runs out and return of benefits is requested, we see how the logic of profit is more and more evident”.
There is another thing that differentiates TikTok from other social networks and content platforms: it is not American, but Chinese.
Its founder and owner is Zhang Yiming, an extremely discreet 39-year-old engineer (the anti-Elon Musk) who stepped down as CEO of ByteDance, the parent company, in 2021, believed to be under pressure from the Chinese government.
The story of the creation of TikTok would not make for an Aaron Sorkin movie like
The Social Network
, which told the genesis of Facebook.
There is no story there of a young man in a garage or at an elite university creating an application to get revenge on the girls who reject him.
The birth of TikTok was rather more prosaic.
In 2016, the Chinese company ByteDance launched Douyin,
musicals that attracted some 100 million users in China and Thailand.
In 2018, she bought Musical.ly, a similar app that based its success on a portfolio of highly popular songs available in his library, which could be lip -
and already had some traction in the United States.
Thus, it launched into international conquest under the name of TikTok.
“In terms of content, there have been three major overlapping eras,” sums up Jessica Maddox, a professor at the University of Alabama and an expert in social media research.
“At first it was mostly dances and lip-syncing, coming from the
Then, between June 2020 and June 2022, the explosion came, that's when everyone realized that they could have a niche on TikTok.
And in the last few months, I would say we've entered the
era , where the most popular content consists of people telling a story or revealing something about themselves.
In fact, the hashtag
The story, by the way, can be completely disconnected from the image, which gives many TikTok videos a kind of disturbing quality.
For example, videos of people applying makeup or eating while recounting a lurid crime are very common.
And recently, the clip of a woman who did a classic TikTok dance in front of the camera while explaining that her husband died in an accident the same day she gave birth to their son.
Maddox also believes that the quality of the videos is becoming more worked and produced, contradicting the widespread idea that TikTok loves the real, and even the crappy, while Instagram rewards the idealized.
The pandemic was a huge boost for the platform.
It is estimated that, in the first weeks of confinement, its implementation in the United States, key to adoption in the rest of the world, grew by 180% among users between the ages of 15 and 25, who make up approximately 25% of its audience. global.
The confinement conspired to search for new stimuli.
This was the case of Leticia González, a 57-year-old lawyer from Santander, a user who denies that only young people are on TikTok and older people are on Meta.
“I started using it in confinement because my children sent me videos and it entertains me a lot, really.
I like immediacy.
You go through videos and some you like and others you don't, but, from what I've been told, the algorithm already knows how to send you things similar to the ones you liked.
I mainly consume videos of comedians, of people who make bilingual content, in Spanish and English, things about crafts, books and board games.
Now I have signed up for one that does sign language, ”she explains.
González acknowledges that the application is "dangerous" because it has an addictive component.
he is bored and I say to myself: I put on TikTok.
In bed you can be very late watching videos and then you fall asleep fatally ”.
Sara Aparicio Oms, a 12-year-old teenager who is studying the first year of ESO in Ayerbe (Huesca), also became hooked on the social network during confinement.
When she was sent home in March 2020, condemned to be bored and do Zoom classes like all the other schoolchildren, her parents ended up giving her a mobile, tired of her borrowing theirs.
And the first thing she did was download TikTok, despite the fact that she was 10 years old at the time and the application theoretically prohibits use by those under 13. In fact, they discovered her and closed her profile, but another one has been opened, supervised by their parents, who control which accounts they follow and control their mobile use.
“I never post anything, and neither do most of my friends, but everyone with a mobile has TikTok.
I like make-up, skating, and animal videos,” she says.
He also follows
like Paula García, a young Spanish woman who works as an
in San Francisco and has 111,000 followers, or Luisito Flowers (178,000 followers), who makes humorous videos and in her bio defines herself as follows: "I'm a mermaid, But don't tell anyone."
Sara admits that when she starts to
, an hour and a half or two hours go by quietly consuming content, but her use of networks does not interfere with her analog life —she is an ice skating champion— and she is clear about what content does not interest her .
“Those who criticize or deal with Shakira and Piqué-type controversies.
If I get out of that, I'll pass."
The Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid launched in July a pioneering unit in public health at the European level called AdCom, aimed at treating so-called behavioral addictions, and there they have included engagement with social networks at the same level as gambling for the first time pathological, shopping or sex.
"Networks is a very new field, it has only been studied for a decade, but studies are empirically showing us that there are behaviors derived from the use of networks that are very similar to those of substance use," he explains. Ricardo Hodann, clinical psychologist integrated in this unit of the Gregorio Marañón.
“Neurobiologically, it involves the same circuitry as in substance addiction.
We see that withdrawal syndrome occurs when there is distance from the networks,
irritability and depressed mood if the connection is lacking and, above all, displacement of activities.
If you spend more time online, you spend less time in the physical world.”
At this time, the AdCom is treating about 25 adolescents for dependence on social networks, sometimes also combined with excessive use of video games.
And within the networks, the most cited are Instagram and TikTok.
“We know that the TikTok algorithm has been highly targeted because it uses artificial intelligence and offers
It offers the adolescent what the AI detects as what most captures her attention.
Sometimes they can reflect social models that are not natural, that exaggerate reality”, Hadonn points out.
“And there we enter the advantageous comparisons.
If I am a 16-year-old teenager and I go to school, but I see more successful people, this negatively affects the image I have of myself.
The social and affective development during adolescence is fundamental, it is when a personality differentiated from the parents is created, and the adolescent who spends a lot of time in networks takes a distorted image of reality ”, he points out.
Zhang Yiming, founder and owner of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, at the firm's headquarters in Beijing in 2019. Gilles Sabrie (Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Contrary to what is done with alcohol or drugs, the treatment does not go through total abstinence because it would not be realistic or very beneficial.
They try to induce self-control, do individual and group therapy, and encourage more
activities and the installation of applications that control usage time.
"Above all, we like to talk about prevention," says the psychologist.
"It is important to raise awareness among parents and educators, who help adolescents to enter this world and accompany them in the process."
From TikTok itself they insist that they prefer to talk about "discovery" and "enjoyment" rather than addiction, and encourage users to personalize their experience, limit the number of minutes of use and report any content that may be considered offensive.
"We have very powerful security options," says Soraya Castellanos, head of Content, Community and Associations for the platform.
"You can choose who sees your content, who can send you a private message, who can duet our videos, and there's parental sync, so parents can exercise control."
If they detect that terms such as "suicide" or "anorexia" are being searched for, what they should find is help and prevention content.
But as always,
It is difficult to select which videos are going to aggravate a problem of this type.
In December last year, an international body called the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), which is in charge of monitoring harmful digital content, conducted a study creating fake profiles of teenagers on TikTok, based in Great Britain, Australia, the United States and Canada.
They were given revealing usernames like
The results, according to the director of the report, Imran Ahmed, were "any parent's nightmare", since in just eight minutes these fake teenagers had access to explicit and very harmful videos about self-harm, strict diets and incitement to suicide.
The other problem that TikTok faces, apart from access and content control —with which all platforms and social networks come up against at some point— is of a very different nature and has to do with cybersecurity.
Anyone who downloads the application on their mobile is giving them a series of data: the appearance of their face, their contacts, their calendar, their Google searches, their
and its geolocation, among others.
“What you would panic to do even with a family member, give them your phone, you are giving it to a stranger: they can see your photos, read your messages.
You share the obvious, but also the non-obvious,” says cybersecurity expert Gemma Galdón.
And the fact that this data ends up in a Chinese company has always worried the West, especially the United States.
“Although many companies have tried for decades, none have managed to win over Americans like TikTok has.
It is difficult to imagine a Russian or Iranian company achieving such an achievement”, summarized a recent cover article in the Sunday magazine of
The New York Times
, which once again presented the platform as a diplomatic problem, like when Donald Trump was in the White House and tried to ban the social network in the United States at all costs.
"It's not a movie, it's a TikTok video," reads an advertising poster for the Chinese content platform during the last Cannes Film Festival. SARAH MEYSSONNIER (Reuters / Contact) (SARAH MEYSSONNIER / Reuters / Co)
The Biden Administration has a more ambiguous relationship with the platform.
On the one hand, it is suspicious of all the information that its citizens give it and of the company's possible relations with the Chinese government —for many experts, this is still a reissue of the
of the Cold War, when it was believed that any strange cultural object could carry communism—and on the other, he actively uses and courts her.
The White House recruited
to explain the war in Ukraine to users and to promote the covid vaccine.
And when Joe Biden wanted to communicate his electric car promotion plan from the Detroit auto show, he didn't do it on CNN or NBC.
He did what any
marketing expert would recommend.
: He recorded a video with a famous
, Daniel Mac, who asks people who drive luxury cars what they do.
"The Chinese fear is unfounded," believes the cybersecurity expert Gemma Galdón.
“All platforms work in the same way and all exploit our data in the same way.
They are all what is called
[digital espionage programs].
The only difference is that TikTok stores them in China and not in the United States.
Right now, the only region that offers certain guarantees in this regard is the European Union, because it has legislation in this regard and fines have been issued for
real time bidding.
[a very invasive advertising system based on real-time bidding], but in practice the European regulator cannot act.
The only thing that would give confidence is a company that commits to comply with current European law, and right now no one does that”.
In the company they emphasize that the data of European users are kept in the United States and Singapore and that a center is being built in Dublin to store them shortly within European territory.
Beyond an international mess and a platform on which to spend hours, for more and more people TikTok is the place where they earn their bread, their job.
The figure of the tiktoker
was professionalized years ago
and in Spain there are several agencies that act as intermediaries between content creators and the brands that want to hire them.
In return, the agency takes 20% of the profits, a standard figure common in other fields of entertainment and publishing.
Many clarify that TikTok is not comparable to the beginnings of Instagram or Twitch, which did generate a gold rush among aspiring
It is difficult to monetize videos, and it is difficult to have continuity because on TikTok it is easy for a video from a user with few followers to go viral: the content matters more than the author and how many followers he may have.
"You can make 40 million views in a month and not earn 700 euros," warns Iván Habib, who posts film and television content with the profile @sensafilm.
Dana Martínez (Hurona Rolera on TikTok) talks about
, but he also shares personal stories on the platform – he revealed his autism diagnosis there and speaks very frankly about his physical and mental health disorders – and was for a time the Spanish profile that grew the most.
He earns about 3,000 euros per month, although he assures that he could be earning much more.
“I myself have put the brakes on because I can't give it any more,” she says.
She has rejected offers of 15,000 euros for a single video because they asked her to promote cryptocurrencies or bookmakers, matters she does not want to get into.
“There is a very fat laundering of social networks.
I am aware that even small children follow me and I look at my content a lot, but I know that not everyone does.
I participated in a
in Barcelona and cut everyone off.
I told them: 'Hey, don't sell your mother for a
, it's not healthy.'
Iván and Dana will surely upload new videos today, and millions of fingers will slide over their faces with a learned gesture.
“TikTok is very random and disparate”
"Without a doubt, what succeeds on TikTok is being yourself and not forcing anything," explains Julia Palazón.
At any given moment, while she looks at the screen, she “turns on the light bulb” and knows what her next video will be about.
She mainly creates pieces about “everyday things”, but also about
"I like to make videos of abs or planks, but more when I talk about gym trends."
For her, TikTok is synonymous with randomness.
“He always has what you want and he gives you the content,” she says.
Her routine involves "many hours of consuming" in order to be aware of "what is going well at the time."
She combines her activity on TikTok with her Nursing degree at the University of Alicante.
"I have a life as a freelancer, very irregular and disparate."
“What matters is the algorithm”
“On TikTok, your political ideas, your sexuality or your social class do not matter.
What matters is the algorithm.”
According to José Antonio Caro, people take into account that each creator is authentic.
Like Milodente, he uploads content in which he talks to the camera about situations in his life.
“You have to be transparent and trust each other,” he says.
His videos are simple and short.
"Some work harder, but in my case I'm only with friends and I pick up my phone when an idea occurs to me."
He does not consider this a job —he is currently a waiter and receptionist— since he bills little with the platform and is not interested in collaborating with brands.
He admits that he has received offers, but is not interested in dabbling in advertising.
“My followers are like little sisters”
Gigi Vives was already an
when he became aware of the TikTok phenomenon.
Once she entered the platform, she understood that "naturalness" was rewarded there, in contrast to the "posture" of Instagram.
"I have two versions: on TikTok I am superhuman and normal, and on Instagram I try to maintain a more aesthetic and superficial profile."
Vives sees her followers as "little sisters" to whom she seeks to speak "closely and sincerely".
For creators, TikTok is, as she explains, an unpredictable and difficult network.
Content must be uploaded daily and in a short time the trends of dances or songs appear and disappear, so they must be "caught in the moment".
She thinks she's found the format that works for her, but she explains that if it's not consistent, even accounts with large followers like hers can suffer and lose interactions.
"For me this is not a job"
"From minute zero I have tried to put all my effort into making these videos what I would like to see."
Iván Habib created Sensafilm because he noticed that TikTok needed content in Spanish about films and series that was offered in a format of between 15 and 30 seconds.
It focuses mainly on movie trivia.
"I must be up to date with everything that is taking place, also with what happens behind the scenes."
But he does not consider his activity a job because it is natural for him to spend hours immersed in these issues.
He believes that there is still a negative connotation in being considered a
and that is why he "was slow" to assume that what he did was actually more than a hobby.
“I am not able to pretend when making videos”
One day, during the confinement, Dana Martínez (the protagonist of our cover) decided that she wanted to make
She put on little elf ears, took her Xbox controller, and did her version of the
, from Wos.
Now, as Hurona Rolera, her content is viewed by millions of people.
The videos that he uploads are on a wide variety of topics, in them he can talk about geek culture as well as light day-to-day things or open up about personal situations.
“I am a person who is not capable of pretending and transforming when making videos,” she explains.
She is already frustrated, angry or happy, what her followers see "is what it is".
She enjoys what she does, but she also says she is exhausted by how TikTok penalizes inactivity and how demanding her followers are.
"I just spent a few days at Disney and they have complained that I have uploaded little content."
Dana posts a video every other day.
"Life does not give for more."
“TikTok is for everyone”
Fran Callejón points out that on TikTok it doesn't matter if you are a public figure or not.
"If people feel identified with your videos, they go viral."
He creates content to make people laugh with everyday situations, particularly those that have to do with life as a couple.
Julia Menú, his partner, is also
Now that she's pregnant, her
is full of videos about life at home when expecting a baby.
Fran landed on TikTok at the beginning of 2019, when there was not yet as much content as the one he and Julia produce.
So, the platform was “booming” and he could see the potential to spread his comedy.
"While Instagram or YouTube are more select, TikTok is for everyone."
That is the most important factor for this comedian.