One internet, many TikToks. If you’re not-very-online, when you see stories in the news about the various social platforms it can be extremely difficult to get a grasp of the breadth of activity that each platform represents. Right now the three and typically only three kinds of behaviors that cross in to mainstream view as far as “what ARE these platforms anyway” (thinking of TikTok specifically) tend to be: 1. activity related to politics and the political tribes (OMG the K-Pop stans), 2. things that seem like moral panic triggers (OMG China is stealing kids data/OMG kids are misusing their cameraphones to make prurient videos), and 3. stuff having to do with brands (OMG Ocean Spray bought that guy a truck). Those looking for a simple answer to wrap their head around as far as “what is TikTok” or “what is Twitter” end up landing on those kinds of things.
But it ain’t like that, and arguably, it’s never been like that. As one colleague once put it, social media is and always has been a collection of niches. And one of the distinguishing features of even very large social platforms is that with a few exceptions, the tacit rules and behaviors of one group don’t look anything like those of another. That’s why it’s always so fun on Twitter, once every few years or so, when something unexpected happens that crosses all those boundaries and makes it feel like the mass participation platform it so rarely does. Most recently, there was a night when all verified users were accidentally locked out of posting on Twitter (except for retweets, which made for kind of a speaking ghosts effect) and all of us non-verifieds had the platform to ourselves. It was glorious. Most of the time, we’re all in our own circles doing our own things. You can get way the wrong idea by looking at trends and hashtags.