If anyone had told me six months ago that I would be writing a blog about the social media platform Tik Tok I would have not believed such a thing. Before the quarantine started, I could not see the point of this app and end up refusing to download it because “I was too old for it”. Of course, after being confined alone within the four walls of my room for a few months, I ended up caving and decided to give this “childish” app a try. To my surprise, I found out that this app is very nuanced and is divided in a similar way to tribes.
I must admit that what put me off Tik Tok, was the notion that all the videos consisted of teens following dancing trends or some prank videos. In a way, it is as if I thought that the entire Tik Tok community was one homogeneous group. Maybe my assumptions were justified to a certain extent since those are the most popular videos in the app. However, for my surprise, there are multiple different communities in this app that cater to the taste of everyone.
It is truly astonishing to see how that algorithm identifies what one might be interested in. The algorithm is so efficient that one is rarely confronted with videos from genres that do not interest you. Hence you can scroll through the for you page being protected in a bubble, never having to realize that there might besides to this app that would not necessarily align with your ideals.
The fact that this platform can host a space for all kinds of ideologies should not surprise me, since most social media apps work in a similar manner. Nonetheless, the way in which the algorithm caters to the user’s taste is jarring due to the way in which it predicts what the user might like before the user even realizing that they are into that type of content.
Through the way in which the algorithm works you are constantly being shown content from communities that might appeal to you, but that you did not know before. Therefore, there is a significant number of videos that start with phrases like: “Hello, welcome ____ side of Tik Tok”. By watching a video of this sort that is welcoming you, it is easy to feel seen and understood, after all, you just found a new community that you did not even imagine that you could belong to.
The sense of belonging that one has by finding the different sides of Tik Tok or the different communities is very reminiscent of the belonging to a tribe. According to the French sociologist Michel Maffesoli, the post-modern tribal phenomenon has three main characteristics, which are the importance of territory; the sharing common interests and taste; and a sense of an eternal child. These three characteristics can all be found to different capacities in the Tik Tok communities.
Although it not being applicable to all the communities in this app, many of them are indeed subject to a location. Usually, Tik Tok videos that are about a certain culture, either from the local perspective or from a visitor’s perspective are highly linked to location. These videos are mostly shown in the locations where the culture that is being mentioned comes from. Then, the characteristic that is most prominent in the sectioning of the communities is the sharing of interest. The final characteristic that this app possesses is this sort of cult of youth. This is clear by just looking at the demographic of users which consist of mostly teenagers, who through the usage of the app define the youth culture.
At first glance, Tik Tok might look like a silly teen social media platform. Nonetheless, through the way the algorithm works, this app has proven to be the host of an ecosystem that consists of multiple tribes. This app then proves to go beyond being a superficial platform, and instead, it is a cultural phenomenon that reflects a lot more about the ways in which our society is developing and it is worth being a chance.
Maffesoli, M. (2017). From Society to Tribal Communities. The Sociological Review (Keele), 64(4), 739-747.
 Maffesoli, 742.