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  • Michael N.

The rise of TikTok

You might have heard of TikTok, with two billion downloads, it is the most downloaded app and you too might have it. TikTok is also the reason influencers such as Charli D’Amelio or Khaby Lame are making millions from dancing or just showing the world how to open a door. But where did this popular social media platform originate and how did it become so influential?

Byte Dance

A decade ago, on the 9th of March 2012, a small company called Byte Dance was created. At the time it was based in a small, four-bedroom flat in Beijing. Now it has over 110,000 employees and is worth 75 billion Dollars. Most likely it will one day become a Trillion Dollar company like Amazon, Google, Apple, Meta, or Microsoft. This company was created by two Chinese men, Zhang Yiming who was originally in charge and Liang Rubo who is the new CEO. At first Byte Dance had only a couple of apps which were small and only available in China at the time, for instance “Neihan Duanzi” a meme and joke social media.


Toutiao, was created just five months after Byte Dance was founded and really kicked off the company, as fewer and fewer people read newspapers and more people were on their phones. Zhang Yiming created Toutiao which is Chinese for headlines. It used a computer algorithm to give you more personalized articles about Entertainment, Sports, or News. This algorithm got the users more hooked by the day and is the biggest reason for its success; 90% of the users were under thirty and daily 1.3 billion articles were read. Within two years Toutiao had 13 million users (about twice the population of Arizona) and in 2017 they had reported 120 million users approximately 10% of the Chinese population at the time.


Douyin was released in 2016 by Byte Dance, the first version of TikTok which even has the same logo. It translates to vibrating sound. At the time it was only used in China and had a few cultural differences, for instance there was a section which promoted the Chinese government. It used the same successful algorithm that Toutiao had. You did not have to search anything; you just opened the app and you started swiping. Douyin was a new form of social media focusing on short videos you swiped through, it was easy to lose track of time.


The following year Tik Tok was released and combined with in 2018. However, it was lacking content, so they added so many filters that it was easy for anybody to post on it, but TikTok was still unhappy with their growth, so a watermark was added, which boosted their downloads. Lots of TikTok’s content is easy to copy and steal so a lot of it ended up on other social media. You might have been on YouTube and seen the TikTok logo floating around. Then TikTok started paying small content creators from other social media to come over to TikTok and to upload. It ended up being the third fastest growing app in 2020, and Covid just strengthened TikTok even more. Now it has two billion downloads, more than any other app. But that’s not all, TikTok was making much more on advertisements because it knew the users better and better over time, so they could be targeted.

Problems with TikTok

TikTok has received multiple bans in countries such as India since TikTok involves challenges, some of which have caused injuries. Sometimes there has been inappropriate and discriminatory content. Also, some people are calling Byte Dance “Chinese spies for the government”. Although, Byte Dance has had one of its apps deleted and in China, its apps are partly government controlled. Another rising problem is the fact that Byte Dance is getting extremely rich and famous influencers on the platform are receiving less and less money. Byte Dance gives a fixed amount of money to all creators on the platform each year, but the number of creators is getting bigger and bigger this means that for every new star all the other stars are getting paid less and less.

The future of Byte Dance

Byte Dance has already released other social media apps in south and southeast Asia such as "Helo" in India and "Lark" in China, Japan and Singapore. We are only looking at the first decade of Byte Dance, there might be a lot to see from them in the next couple of years.

Credits: Cover image - TikTok (

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