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Why kids are so obsessed with TikTok, according to a social media expert

TikTok, a social media platform targeted at young mobile phone users, was the second-most downloaded app in the world in 2019. It was the most downloaded app in July 2020.

It’s also become a geopolitical football. Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok has been banned by India along with 58 other Chinese-owned apps in July in response to escalating border tensions between the two countries. The Trump administration issued an executive order banning TikTok and Chinese-owned messaging platform WeChat from engaging in transactions in the United States beginning on September 15. The company sued the Trump administration in August in response to the ban.

As a political scientist who studies social media, I’ve looked at what makes TikTok unique and why young people have flocked to it. In short, the phone-only app lets users record themselves dancing or goofing around to a music or spoken-word clip and then alter the videos using a wide array of effects. Despite its superficially frivolous nature, young people have been using the platform to send political messagescoordinate political actions, and hang out in an online space largely free of adults.

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