The closest I have come to using TikTok was during last spring’s class when I used my wife’s account. I decided to join for the purpose of this post, but made sure to do something I rarely do. Read the terms of service. I focused on the privacy portion. TikTok says the only information they gather is what you provide in your TikTok profile and the information in any profile you use to login. For example I used my google account (after the first week), my profile only has my age and name. No mention of gathering contacts (unless you link them, which I did not). I did not put on a vpn to get a true sense of what the app would do with my isp address. Initially it leads you to think that they will only gather other information if you give permission, then later on it says browsing history for advertisers. Sneaky. This was not something I noticed until later (as you will see in my point form reflections).
As TikTok is a series of short videos I have decided to present my initial findings in point form.
Week 1 (just using app as a guest, not signing in with an account)
- First few videos are all of a hill on fire in Edmonton.
- Fires in Alberta.
- Lots of Indigenous creators.
- Animal videos.
- Lots of weird cooking videos.
- Indigenous content (specific ones on cultural appropriation).
- Comedic animal videos.
- Comedic kid videos.
- Watch one comedy video on hockey and then…
- ….Lots of Canadian centred content (heavy Canadian accents)
I reread what info they take if you make an account from a third party (nothing about the content you use just profile info).
- Sign up with google (same email as YouTube)
- Almost immediately creatures I follow on YouTube shorts start showing up (coincidence?).
- Still lots of indigenous content (mention of indigenous TikTok).
- Started following Lewis Capaldi.
- Turns out the YouTube connection was a coincidence.
- Animal and kid videos have combined.
- Told them not to track contacts and then the first person they recommended to follow was my wife (she does not make videos).
- Started to follow Hank Green and felt sad
- My dog is quite sick, so I’ve been up late scrolling through TikTok, feeding the algorithm.
- Forwarded my first TikTok video
- I’ve heard of this happening- where did the past half hour go?
- Following Lewis Capaldi was a mistake (dog video)
- It knows I’m a teacher. Getting a stream of teacher related content.…which means the few teacher TikToks I was sent before I downloaded TikTok are floating around somewhere and TikTok has access to the part of my phone. I didn’t give it access to…or it’s kept track of my isp from watching videos before I had the app.
- It is teaching me slang.
- After my dog died it has become an easy distraction. Far too easy.
Throughout the second week I started interacting more, using hearts forwarding three videos and following a few creators. TikTok was much better at figuring me out than YouTube. Even before I started liking and following it got a very quick sense of my politics. With YouTube I watch one conservative video to try and balance my bias and then that is all I get recommended (no matter how many-“do not recommend” buttons I click). This, along with how much information it seemed to have without me giving permission, was frightening.
At the same time I see the benefits. I am getting a broader amount of content that is providing useful information. For example as a CIS white male I have worried about how well I will be able to speak out on anti-lgbtq+ issues. TikTok has provided me with allies that have added to my vocabulary and done so in a compellingly calm way. YouTube thinks I am anti-trans because I watched Neil Degrasse Tyson on Joe Rogan.
While TikTok is far more comforting I am worried about how comforting it is to those on the opposite political spectrum. Is it just one giant confirmation bias? It feels that way and it is very seductive. I don’t know how long I will continue using it, but each time I switch back to YouTube I am fed angry content. TikTok just seems happier. I get fed self-affirming videos, creators that are not just white males, progressive reflections, and dog videos that make me feel sad.
I hope I am able to find my way through the weeds and gain from the benefits while not pulling that comforting blanket of confirmation over my eyes.