What do TikTok and COVID-19 have in common and how can we all learn from it?

admin March 22, 2020 0 Comments

You might be in that magical age group of millennials where you are equally not affected by either the latest social media craze (TikTok) or the latest social health scare (COVID-19 or Corona virus). You may have heard of both and the title above is even more confusing to you.

So what do TikTok and COVID-19 have in common? Well, apart from both being worldwide phenomenon, seriously contagious and originating in China? Oh and yes, in the best case scenario, both of them will keep you indoors and glued to your phone for hours on end.

It’s the worst case scenario that has led me to write this article.

But, let’s start with the basics. What is TikTok and why should you care about it?

According to their website, TikTok is  “the leading destination for short-form mobile video. Their mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy.” Their tagline is Real Videos – Real People and it is currently changing the way GenZ (and whatever the generation after is called) is behaving and communicating. TikTok originated in China and was released in markets worldwide in 2017, but it only picked up sonic speed somewhere mid-2019. Now it is home to a staggering 1 billion users every day. It is currently valued at $75 billion, making it “the most valuable privately held company in the world”.

There are several novel things that TikTok brings to the table, from the way it compensates its creators, to the mix between reality and social media, to their unique algorithm that (at least for the moment) prefers real people and their stories. When you dive deep into the TikTok universe (and trust me, I have gone to the bottom of its black holes and back), you will begin to realise its social impact and the way it is changing communication and trend-setting today.

I’ll write a whole new article about this and about TikTok algorithm (follow if you are interested in this), but today I want to focus on one single aspect of TikTok that should be implemented EVERYWHERE.

Corona virus or COVID-19 (as referred below) is taking over the media space in the world. TikTok is no exception to this rule. Almost half of all the videos I see today on the app are related to COVID-19. Some of them are informative, but most of them are GenZs celebrating getting out of school and making fun of the virus being a “Boomer cleaner” since it (so far) affects this generation the most.   There are also videos about college kids wondering what to do after their schools have kicked them out and a whole array of videos showing how easy it would be to transition to an online schooling.

It was two weeks ago when I noticed a fascinating thing happening. It started at first with only a few videos that mention COVID-19 directly in the titles and tags of the videos. These videos had a small, but very evident mark across the bottom of the screen with the title “Learn the facts about COVID-19”. You can see the example of this in the screenshot below.

In just a few days, the algorithm started picking up on this and adding the warning to all videos that had mention of Corona (in tags, description, title or just in the speech of the creator). As someone deeply involved in AI and augmented intelligence and how AI can help us lead better lives, this was a revelation to me.

Once you click on the warning, the link leads to a special page, a so called “safety center” with the following text:

“We are committed to keeping TikTok community safe and informed. In order to ensure users have the most accurate information about novel coronavirus, we’ve included a list of authoritative local resources below. For updates on other regions, please visit the World Health Organisation’s website.”

The text is then joined with local resources from different countries and different languages (see the screenshot).

I have not seen this kind of commitment to truth reporting anywhere on social media. At least not in real time, as it is shown here. And mind you, the creator does not have a choice if this warning will be shown or not – the algorithm decides.

The closest I can think of is the “Mark you are safe” option Facebook introduced a few years ago in the moment of safety crisis.

The technology that TikTok uses can be used everywhere to combat one of the most relevant issues today – Fake News and Hate Speech. Imagine if we have had this implemented on all social media platforms during the USA election campaigns. Or if anytime that someone mentions refugees or migrants or uses Hate Speech – the algorithm recognises the pattern and provides a link to proven platforms or researched resources. How different would elections be? Online bullying? Combating anorexia and bulimia in the teen population?

Why is this extremely important?

Today’s social media is dedicated on making you happy and keeping you online for as long as possible. In order to do so, the algorithm picks up on what you like and shows you more of that. The same way, it analyses your behaviours and sentiments and shows you less of the things that make you upset.

One may say this is important for mental health (and sure, instant gratification, it might be), but this basically creates a bubble of information available to you. If we use only a percentage of the world’s knowledge via Google and social media and that percentage is then reduced immensely to the things you agree with – you are unable to grow and develop as a person. You will grow up believing the world is full of like-minded individuals and you will be harshly disappointed as soon as you start to travel or move outside of your comfort circle.

With these snippets of information that forces the content creator to be linked with relevant and proven facts, you are exposed to not only what you want to know, but also to the things you might need to know.

Imagine the most infuriating video you have recently seen.

Not to go into politics or religion, let’s say it depicts some kind of derogatory speech on a minority. Or it showcases someone emotionally abusing their peers or children. Or even someone talking about how they hate themselves.

If the algorithm recognises the keywords and tags a plethora of resources to this video, it might not only help the creator, but also to the significant amount of people that will see it and identify with it. Even if people report these videos, by the time they are removed, the damage is already done.

Imagine having links to suicide prevention lines. To websites fighting eating disorders. To charities and associations raising awareness on the freedom of speech and human rights. To the platforms supporting LGBTQ rights. Take any cause you believe in – it can be applied.

TikTok is currently testing this functionality on other scenarios as well. I recently saw a video of a guy jumping around in a metro, climbing on top of the chairs, twisting his body around with a high level of skill. On the bottom of the screen, there was another warning: “The action in this video could result in serious injury.” (see screenshot below)

Imagine if this was available on Facebook and Youtube when kids were eating Tide pods as a challenge? Or when they were eating spoons of cinnamon and causing serious damage to their lungs? (if you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t google it, you are lucky not to be invested in the web the same way as I am)

In conclusion, I have two warnings for you – if you decide to download TikTok after this article to see what it is all about – please note it is highly contagious. You will have to install some apps that will restrict you on using it because it is super fun, people are extremely creative and I swear the algorithm sometimes knows better than I do what to show me.

Let me plug in the same thing about COVID-19: avoid panic but do as much as you can to implement both personal and social responsibility – stay at home as much as possible, wash your hands and read ONLY relevant sources like the World Health Organisation.

And, if you liked this article and would like to see this technology implemented on other social media platforms, share this article in your networks.

In the upcoming weeks, I am planning to write more about the way GenZs communicate, what is coming up with AI and humanity, where are we headed with online education and work from home, jobs from the future and other topics.

P.S. I am not paid to write any of this, I am just committed to creativity and investigating and contributing to the newest trends in technology and science of human behaviour.



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