TikTok, Boom. Review: New paper explores app’s censorship and privacy issues
The Polygon team reports from the all-virtual grounds of the 2022 Sundance International Film Festival, with a look at the next wave of upcoming indie releases across sci-fi, horror, and documentary.
At the start of the new documentary TikTok, Boom., director Shalini Kantayya seems to be preparing for a walkthrough for oldies who are at best slightly aware that children are in a new social app. The setup is pure TikTok 101, guiding audiences through startling stats about the app’s meteoric growth and boasts of one billion active users, with a cheesy montage of news footage and archive footage. . (Slow-motion footage of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, wide-eyed and nervous, backed by a voice-over quote about TikTok challenging Silicon Valley’s dominance, is a particularly corny touch.)
But during this effective look at TikTok’s history, impact, and future (which could easily be confused with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2021 directorial debut), Kantayya offers a condensed look. of the corporate and political chicanery around the app, and provides insight into how its most successful users are making a career out of it. Once his doc kicks off, it’s accessible enough for tech-agnostic people who still don’t own smartphones, but taps into insights and insights that even the most regular TikTok viewers and creators might find useful. . The document addresses the ideas and experiences prevalent around the app, mostly with helpful journalistic suppression that avoids scolding or gushing. As a primer, it is effective and absorbent.
Kantayya spends some time explaining where TikTok came from, how it was developed in China as Douyin, released in 2016, and eventually renamed internationally as Tiktok after absorbing the US app Musical.ly Lip Sync. She avoids editorializing, but receives quotes from authors and journalists who speak intensely about the app’s scope, design and place in a crowded market competing for the attention of young people in particular. .
But she gets more out of her interviews with a few prominent YouTube creators who have gone viral in different areas and in different ways, like beatboxer Spencer X, who turned his music videos into a million-dollar career, or activist Deja Foxx, who went viral in 2017 aged 16 after confronting then-Senator Jeff Flake over Planned Parenthood at a town hall meeting. Each of the interviewees talks about different aspects of the app and how it puts popular users in the spotlight, giving them an international reach they can use for everything from promoting political and social causes to in connection with superstars for joint projects.
Inevitably, there are cautionary tales, though Kantayya keeps them short and to the point. Foxx talks about the harassment and intimidation that comes from public exposure. While Afghan-American teenager Feroza Aziz found community and an escape from real racist bullying by sharing her culture and life on TikTok, her videos were censored and her account banned after posting videos raising awareness of the genocidal repression of the Uyghur people in China. .
For regular TikTok users, this is where most of the value of TikTok, Boom. will enter – not by putting numbers on the popularity of the popular app they are using, but by exposing exactly what they are exposed to in terms of data mining, privacy concerns and control over what they are allowed to say. Interview reveals Douyin has much stricter limits, including censoring people with tattoos, piercings or ‘unnatural hair colors’, while memos reveal how parent company ByteDance conspired to have its apps shadowban videos for a wide variety of reasons, from featuring people of color to discuss queer issues or featuring people who are overweight or disabled – all supposedly in the name of protecting those people against bullying.
While Kantayya raises these questions, she never seems to try to get people to quit the app or lecture them on how to use it. But the clear evidence that their cute dance videos and eye gags are being watched for state sedition is startling, as is the darker side of an algorithm designed to analyze and record anything about users’ personal tastes, and weaponize it to sell them products and keep them on the site for hours.
The film mostly plays the history of TikTok straight up, but Kantayya indulges in a few hints of humor when addressing the politics around TikTok. The film takes on a more ironic tone when it tackles a viral stunt that humiliated Donald Trump and seemingly sent him on the warpath against the app, while simultaneously demanding middleman fees if his administration regulated the app in a way that forced him to sell his United States. operations at Microsoft. And the story gets downright salty watching Zuckerberg’s clumsy attempts to control or destroy TikTok’s parent company on Facebook’s behalf.
There aren’t really any new ideas in TikTok, Boom., no blinding insights or revelations, no drastic warnings or threats. His approach often seems scattered and superficial, never going beyond a few quotes or a short story on a given topic. But that makes it more of a talking point than a hardcore dive into any given specific issue. It’s a quick, capable, and entertaining wrap-up act, seemingly designed to bring its viewers to the same level of TikTok understanding, no matter what level they start at. It almost feels like a public service as much as a documentary – a way to catch up on the world’s most downloaded app and be a little more aware of the inner workings behind the endless hijackings and distractions of the app. ‘application.
TikTok, Boom. is currently looking for a cast.