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Memes, dance challenges, social awareness: looking back on TikTok’s tumultuous year

Top TikTok videos of 2019
Here are some of the most memorable TikTok videos of 2019.

It’s safe to say that it’s been a noteworthy year for TikTok, which has seen breakthrough moments as well as controversy in 2019.

The social media app recently shared a list of its top 100 videos of the year, and it’s as varied and eclectic as the platform’s users.

The list is split into 10 categories, including viral videos, memes, dance trends and celebrities — and even if you don’t use TikTok, you’ve likely seen at least a few of the clips on the list before.

MORE: Follow Global News on TikTok

The videos range in length from 15 to 60 seconds, and feature an array of content from comedy sketches and dance challenges to lip-syncing celebrities and pranks.

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Some of TikTok’s top 100 videos of the year include:

  1. A nine-panel video featuring a barbershop quartet singing “Mr. Sandman” and an orange cat
  2. A woman’s comical experience trying Kombucha for the first time
  3. ‘The Git Up’ dance challenge
  4. Actor Terry Crews showing off his dance moves
  5. Comedic parodies of Kylie Jenner’s viral ‘Rise and Shine’ video

If you’ve been sleeping on popular video-sharing app TikTok, it’s time to wake up.

The app is one of the fastest-growing social networking sites in the world, accumulating 500 million active users worldwide since launching in 2016. In fact, it beat out a few of its more seasoned competitors, like Twitter and Snapchat, which boast 330 million and 203 million active users, respectively.

According to estimates, the app had 188 million new users in the first quarter of 2019 — a 70 per cent jump from the same time in 2018. And while the app’s user base has largely been driven by teenagers, it’s growing in popularity among adults too.

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The app’s growth was so undeniable, it even made an appearance in the 2019 federal election. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh posted two lip-syncing videos while on the campaign trail, with each one amassing millions of views.

Teen’s TikTok tutorial turns into a plea for Uighurs in China
Teen’s TikTok tutorial turns into a plea for Uighurs in China

For many of the young platform’s young users, like 22-year-old Ryerson student Aima Warraich, TikTok is a more creatively compelling and accessible contender to video giants like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. And despite the many comparisons to the now-defunct video-hosting platform Vine, Warraich insists TikTok is a different kind of beast altogether.

“There’s different types of music and sound effects that people use to create their own video content. It’s just the creativity of it all. It’s nothing like YouTube, it’s nothing like Vine,” Warraich says.

“It’s like its own subculture of pop culture.”

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READ MORE: TikTok vs. television: How social media is shaping the federal election

According to Warraich, the grassroots feel of the platform is also responsible for its popularity with younger generations — short videos with no ads that get straight to the point. And while more and more celebrities are jumping on the TikTok train, most of its users are everyday people  — which Warraich feels makes the content more relatable.

Matthew Johnson, director of education at Ottawa-based MediaSmarts, a non-profit organization focusing on media literacy programs, says the app is a more easygoing environment than others like Instagram, where users are hyper-aware of how they’re being perceived.

“It’s a very casual experience. The videos tend to be short, it’s ideal for filling up odd idle moments,” Johnson said.

“It’s also seen as a casual experience in terms of creating videos. There’s much less pressure to appear perfect or to curate a particular identity than other social networks.”

But TikTok isn’t all lighthearted comedy and entertainment. Many users are also using the short-form videos to talk about bigger issues. For Warraich, it’s one the app’s most attractive features.

NDP leader takes federal election to TikTok
NDP leader takes federal election to TikTok

“You have accounts dedicated to bringing awareness to topics that are ignored, to dispelling myths and talking about discrimination,” Warraich says.

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“It’s content people are too afraid to put [on other platforms].”

TikTok’s interface allows for a wider audience potential than other social media sites, making it more likely that content users post will be insulated from the eyes of their friends and families.

Johnson says this makes it feel like a safe space for many young people to express their opinions and take a stand on social and political issues.

“MediaSmarts’ research with youth showed us that they often were reluctant to touch on anything political on platforms like Snapchat or Instagram because these were where they interacted with their peers, and they didn’t want to cause controversy or attract criticism,” he said.

“Because the content you create on TikTok has a wider potential audience, and won’t automatically be seen by your peers, it’s seen as a safer space to take a stand.”

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Johnson also says that the music- and meme-forward nature of the app cushions many users’ anxiety about discussing politics on social media.

On Nov. 24, a New Jersey-based teen posted a makeup tutorial on TikTok, or at least that’s what she appeared to be doing if you weren’t paying attention. Seventeen-year-old Feroza Aziz used the tutorial to draw in viewers and strategically avoid censorship from the Chinese-owned app, while raising awareness about China’s persecution of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority in the country.

The video quickly went viral, accumulating more than 1.5 million views and sparking a discussion on the alleged human rights abuses taking place in China.

READ MORE: TikTok admits to suppressing videos from some persons with disabilities, LGBTQ2 community

Warraich says Aziz’s ingenious method of disseminating information on TikTok is part of the creative spark that makes the app so interesting to her as a user.

“I think it’s a very creative way for people to make this information accessible. It’s not like they’re using complicated or academic  jargon. They’re talking about it in a way that people who don’t usually participate in these kinds of dialogues can easily understand.”

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TikTok and its parent company, Chinese technology company Bytedance, are not without controversy. In early December, TikTok admitted to suppressing the content of users it deemed ‘susceptible to bullying’, namely people with disabilities or those in the LGBTQ2 community.

It also faced public scrutiny over allegations that the platform removed politically-sensitive content for users in China, including Aziz’s makeup video, for which the company later apologized.

In November, U.S. lawmakers launched a probe into Bytedance’s acquisition of the social media app, formerly called Musical.ly, citing several concerns including worries over how the Chinese company would store the personal data of users.

READ MORE: TikTok, Musical.ly deal needs national security review over censorship concerns: senator

But for Warraich and other young people, content is king — and TikTok’s content will keep them coming back.

“It isn’t afraid to talk about the most controversial things, and that’s what I find most enjoyable.”