Talkin’ ‘Bout TikTok: TikTok Takes Time

Your time is valuable to you but it is even more valuable to TikTok.

Tik Tok and other social media companies want their users to spend as much time as possible on their apps because the more time a user spends on an app, the more money Tiktok makes. Apps like TikTok appear to be free to the user, but the user still pays a price — with their data. Data in this case means the information about what the user interacts with, which videos they like, comment on, share, and accounts they follow.

TikTok uses an algorithm to analyze that data and figure out what will be most appealing to each user. Ultimately, TikTok works like a drug. It is addictive and only intensifies the more time you spend on it. Unlike longer videos, short videos are enticing and minimize the risk of losing the viewers’ interest. Short videos allow the user to quickly swipe from video to video, finding entertainment before they even realize it.

A user’s data helps TikTok optimize the user experience, which increases the time the user will stay on the app. TikTok has developed one of the best algorithms, tracking what you find entertaining, interesting, and humorous. TikTok’s algorithm can tailor videos and advertisements to your liking, to keep you on the app for longer. Tiktok may seem simple, but it is playing with your mind’s neurochemistry.

TikTok is addictive because the short videos give you small amounts of delight. On a neurological level, feelings of pleasure come from the secretion of dopamine in your brain.  However, many addictions stem from the person’s need to have more of the feel-good chemicals. Entertaining videos cause small and steady amounts of dopamine to be released. This makes TikTok like a drug.

If creators want their content to be pushed out to new users, they have to make sure their videos have “engagement”, meaning that users have to comment on the video, share, or like the video so Tik Tok will push their content. The small window of time to capture the user’s interest has forced creators to make TikToks attention-grabbing.

This causes some creators to take extreme stances or perform outrageous acts. Creators may not even believe in the things they portray, but their extreme videos create “engagement” (whether good or bad), which grows their accounts.

Understanding how this works makes it easier to see why social media often causes polarization.

And why do companies have such addictive and complex algorithms in the first place? The answer is simple: money.

Advertisers are attracted to opportunities to make profit. Tiktok has many users who spend a lot of time consuming content, and advertisers are willing to pay a lot of money to have their products pushed out to millions of users, whether directly through ads or through influencers’ posts.

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