China's TikTok Keeps Growing Among US Youth

    04 March 2020

    The popularity of Chinese-owned video sharing service TikTok continues to grow among young people in the United States. In 2019, experts say the service more than doubled its American user base to 37 million. TikTok is especially popular with teens and young adults.

    The service lets users create and share short videos, many of which are under 15 seconds. The TikTok app offers a wide choice of sounds, brief parts of songs and special effects tools to help create a video. Some TikTok-based memes go viral. Videos often include popular songs from well-known artists and TikTok has even helped launch the careers of new music stars.

    TikTok is considered a competitor to video-sharing app Snapchat, as well as Facebook's Instagram service. Snapchat and Instagram also mainly interest young users with a wide mix of photos and videos centered largely on fashion, pop culture and humor.

    In this Feb. 28, 2018 photo, Matty Nev Luby, right, and her mother Kerrylynn Mahoney pose together for a photograph in Wethersfield, Conn. The high school gymnast's popularity on the lip-syncing app, which merged this summer into the Chinese vi
    In this Feb. 28, 2018 photo, Matty Nev Luby, right, and her mother Kerrylynn Mahoney pose together for a photograph in Wethersfield, Conn. The high school gymnast's popularity on the lip-syncing app, which merged this summer into the Chinese vi

    Last year, TikTok was the second-most downloaded app from Apple and Google stores. Only WhatsApp was downloaded more. Research company Sensor Tower estimates people have downloaded the TikTok app 1.65 billion times.

    TikTok has been used by many major companies to reach young people who use little or no traditional media.

    One of those companies is American-based e.l.f. Cosmetics. The makeup company's chief marketer, Kory Marchisotto, told The Associated Press that TikTok is "where the Gen Z party is." Gen Z is a name used to describe the generation born between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. "That's where they're all hanging out," Marchisotto said.

    Companies appearing on TikTok can make money through advertising. Often, the companies create user "challenges" as part of their ad campaigns. In challenges, users are invited to publish their own videos in which they perform similar dance moves. One campaign by e.l.f. Cosmetics, for example, asked people to wink and move their lips while following a song. TikTok users created 3 million videos that received more than 4 billion views.

    While TikTok has continued to grow since its U.S. launch in 2017, it has also received media attention for being the first Chinese-owned social-media service to rise to major success in the U.S.

    U.S. lawmakers have raised concerns about TikTok's collection of user data and the possibility that the company could be sharing information with the Chinese government. In addition, the lawmakers said the app presents national security risks and could be used to censor material for users in the U.S.

    TikTok has said it does not share information with the Chinese government and denies the app carries national security risks or is used to censor information.

    Still, the concerns led the U.S. government to launch a national security investigation into TikTok. Also, the U.S. Department of Defense warned last December of possible security risks linked to the use of TikTok. The agency urged employees not to use the app. The warning led several military services to ban the use of TikTok on government devices.

    In addition, some groups and parents have expressed concerns about videos appearing on TikTok that might be harmful for young users.

    Nonprofit privacy group Common Sense Media has issued guidance for parents. The group notes on its website that many videos appearing on TikTok include offensive language and sexual subjects. For these reasons, the group urges parents to supervise what their children watch on TikTok and suggests that the service is best for those over age 16.

    TikTok's head of creator partnerships, Kudzi Chikumbu, told the AP the company is working hard to make sure the app is a "safe and positive environment."

    Last year, the company agreed to pay the U.S. government a $5.7 million fine for collecting personal information from children under age 13. Since then, TikTok created a separate part of the app that restricts possibly offensive material. The app requires users to be 13 years old, although it does not confirm users' ages. TikTok says it does remove what it calls "wrongly created" accounts if they are reported by other users.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press and Reuters, and information from Common Sense Media. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    meme n. usually, an image with a caption, which is spread from person to person on the internet

    fashion n. the most popular style of clothes, appearance or behavior at a particular time

    hang out v. to spend time in a particular place with a particular group of people

    challenge n. a difficult task that tests a person's abilities

    wink v. to shut one eye briefly as a signal or in teasing

    censor v. to examine books, movies, letters, etc., in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.

    positive adj. marked by or indicating acceptance, approval or affirmation