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The Kids Use TikTok Now Because Data-Mined Videos Are So Much Fun

The video-sharing app by the Chinese-owned Bytedance, the world’s most valuable startup, has a younger audience than Facebook, an algorithm that learns you, and different ideas about free speech.

A TikTok party in Tokyo in February.

A TikTok party in Tokyo in February.

Photographer: Shiho Fukada/Bloomberg

Most nights, from around 7 till midnight, Sydney Jade is on TikTok, the smartphone app of the moment. The platinum blond teenager films herself singing show tunes, doing jumping jacks, and joking around with store clerks at a Walmart not far from her home in Oklahoma. Her short music videos and livestreams are popular—Jade has 284,000 followers, some of whom periodically send her virtual gifts, like 99¢ Rainbow Puke stickers.

Jade’s parents resisted TikTok at first. They hadn’t heard of the app and, Jade says, “didn’t like the idea of strangers watching me sing alone in front of the pink curtains in my bedroom.” But she convinced them that TikTok was “friendlier for kids than other apps like Facebook.” They let her join last year, just as, it seems, every other teenager signed on as well. In January, TikTok was the most downloaded app in the Android and iPhone stores, according to research firm Sensor Tower Inc.