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'TikTok is the language they use': Teens rally around popular app amid criticism

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Published in Science & Technology News

BALTIMORE - In candid moments, teens may concede they spend too many hours scrolling on TikTok, and acknowledge that the wildly popular app can feel frivolous.

But TikTok - a video sharing app for a generation that keeps little to itself - is inspiring ardent loyalty from users who say its dance videos and candid expressions of teen reality help them feel connected during the socially limiting coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump's recent move to ban the app set off what Melia Scott, 18, of Baltimore, calls "a rebellion" among her age group.

"They are definitely fighting it," said Scott, who attends Baltimore City Community College.

There are "Save TikTok" and "Ban Trump" hashtags on the app, along with plenty of users showing off unflattering Trump impressions. Tens of thousands of people have signed any of a half-dozen online petitions to preserve TikTok, and some users say they would explore loopholes or hacks to try to get around a ban.

"TikTok is the language they use," Jennifer Berg Gaither, the librarian at Baltimore City College high school, said of her students. She makes TikTok videos - including some in which she dances with students - to heighten their interest in education. "I don't think anyone wants TikTok to go away," she said.

 

"We use TikTok during the pandemic to literally express how we feel," said Nakiyan Johnson, 18, who graduated this year from City College. "I want to still be able to communicate with people."

The app invites users to share videos up to 60 seconds. People lip-sync popular songs, dance, pull pranks on friends, show off stunts or athletic skills, provide cooking tips or open up about deeply personal issues such as depression or sexual orientation.

Millennials and post-millennials talk about body-image insecurities, breakups and the general awkwardness and tribulations of being a teenager or young adult. Analysts say the app is particularly good at finding users' comfort zones and feeding them videos of interest by theme or location.

TikTok says on its website that it collects "information contained in the messages you send through our platform and information from your phone book, if you grant us access to your phone book on your mobile device."

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