Considering I do a lot of workshops on personal branding using social media, I address different kinds of people often and talk about social media platforms with them, in context. When I say, ‘Instagram’ for the first time in any group, the younger ones’ eyes light up immediately. I can totally understand that love.
On the contrary, when I utter ‘TikTok’, almost everyone starts either smiling or sniggering. I have tested this in as many as 15+ sessions I have conducted and TikTok seems to evoke an inexplicably bizarre reaction amongst people who live in metros (which I have so far conducted my sessions).
From the limited number of (a few hundred) videos I have seen on TikTok, the platform reminds me of a video version of Whatsapp. Most of the videos make me cringe, barring the occasionally astonishingly brilliant video, like the one below that recently went viral.
There is an anything-goes nature on TikTok, and most of the content (I have seen) mirrors much of the regressive K-serials (Balaji) on TV as also absurdly regressive Bollywood and regional films and TV serials. A lot of the content creators have moved from creating content for fun, by chance, just to test the platform and their own skills, to become regular content creators who create content because they have tasted success in terms of views and comments, becoming minor/major celebrities in their cities.
In a way, like how we city-dwellers found an audience and discovered Likes, Shares and RTs for the first time a decade ago on earlier social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, people in tier 2/3/4 cities are discovering the same phenomenon now, on TikTok.
I also stumble on the occasional tweet or Facebook post that picks one TikTok video and denigrates it (rightly so) and passes a broader opinion (sweeping generalization) about the entire platform using that as a yardstick.
From what I have noticed, every platform has its own benefits and seems like a cesspool on another angle. Twitter is a great example – some of the worst, heartless and downright violent trolling happens on Twitter, while also hosting some of the funniest and smartest conversations between people, even as it works perfectly as a content discovery tool.
I don’t even need to say anything about Facebook. And Whatsapp? Whatsapp could easily be the headquarters of fake news, with the ease of forwarding fake news on steroids. Whenever I try debunking some fake news with the actual fact in one of the many alumni groups I’m in, most people usually end up with a very odd conclusion and sentiment: “I’m not on Whatsapp for serious news, and I’m here merely for fun and entertainment. So, if this news wasn’t true, so be it… it’s all fun!”. This completely flies in the face of people getting lynched or murdered due to something that started on Whatsapp!
Given such bad things that happen on other platforms, TikTok seems no different. The bigger difference is the audience profile – it seems hugely concentrated with people from the non-metros, the Tier 2/3/4 cities of India! And they are having a lot of fun. And are getting addicted to the adulation they are getting, so much that they go to any lengths creating those videos… and endanger their lives in the process! They first started tasting the heady effect of having an audience for their utterances on Whatsapp, but that was a messaging platform and not a broadcast platform in the true sense. And Whatsapp was, and is, to a large extent, text-first, where other formats are after text.
But TikTok is video-first and video-only. That breaks down the written-down language barrier. Even the most illiterate people speak their own language (mother tongue) and video, as a format, gives them the power to express themselves seamlessly, without worrying about articulation. And the real magic of TikTok is the platform’s partnership with music labels, to make available a wide variety of songs that already serve as modes of expressions (through the lyrics) for most Indians, across languages. The same idea on Facebook or Instagram would see the content being muted as soon as it is uploaded because of copyright issues. It is only recently that Instagram realized this trick and signed deals with music labels to make music legitimately available to users via Instagram Music.
Take a look at this TikTok video, for instance.
There is brilliance at multiple levels. One, The song used is from Hum Aapke Hain Kaun – ‘Yeh Mausam Ka Mitwa’. This is a song that is from the so-called ‘terrible 90s’ and it is very fashionable to look down upon people who like that era’s Hindi film music. The stars include Nadeem-Shravan, Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan, Abhijeet, Vinod Rathod, Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen, Jatin-Lalit and so on. Their songs continue to blare out of auto-rickshaws in Tier 2/3/4 towns of India and also Tier 1 towns’ cabs and barber shops. Denigrating this is almost a class divide in India.
In the original song (I have appended it in the end of the TikTok video, for context), this line is being lip-synced by Salman Khan and sung by S.P.Balasubrahmanyam, who was Salman’s voice for quite a few films in that period. The same line, in the film, sort of means that Salman is taking Madhuri with him to his city, whereas, in the TikTok video, the goat-herd is literally talking about his flock 🙂
And the way he stops, sans any expression, almost preparing for the final punch when S.P.Balasubrahmanyam laughs, and he puts up his own laugh in sync… I really wonder how this 15-second video even happened! The thought that this song should be chosen, with the goat-herd shooting it in selfie-mode as he is managing his flock, his expressions and lip-sync timed so well and the laugh, timed even better to perfection… and all this by a goat-herd! This obviously doesn’t absolve TikTok of the more vulgar and regressive content it hosts, but it at least shows that it is simply like any other social media platform. The main difference is that the kind of people, who create content so lovingly on it, are a new breed of people discovering their power of expression, however rudimentary or crude it is, with a large audience, for the first time ever.