TikTok has gone viral — and then some. A spiritual successor to Vine and an actual successor to Musical.ly, the shortform video sharing app has swept the world in the past year. Like other social media apps, it’s frequently the source of viral memes, slang, challenges, and dances. You may have seen it on the news when teenagers used the app to spread the word about a plan to reserve tickets for a Trump rally (and then not show up), when lawmakers called for a national security review of the app, or when it launched last year’s runaway hit song, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Initially popular mostly among teenagers and young adults, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, TikTok has exploded in popularity among users of all ages.
TikTok serves an endless scroll of videos on your “For You” page. You can scroll down to keep watching videos that TikTok has curated for you based on your likes and activity using its algorithm. (This is not necessarily a good thing. TikTok has been suspected of suppressing black creators and had been preventing users from getting their content on “For You” based on their appearance and whether they appeared to be in “slums” or “dilapidated housing.” In the past, it has also suppressed videos by LBGTQ creators and creators with disabilities.) You can also find content and creators to follow by searching up hashtags and even sounds.
If you want to post your own content, you can edit your videos in-app. Videos recorded through the app can be a maximum of 15 seconds long, but you can string clips together for a max length of 60 seconds or upload longer videos that you’ve recorded outside the app. TikTok also allows you to do duets, where you can place your own video side by side with another video, allowing you to film a reaction video, answer questions, or dance and sing together.
(Keep in mind that, like other social networking apps, TikTok has its own share of privacy issues — such as the recent discovery that it was accessing content from the clipboard on iOS devices.)
Once you set up the app, make an account, and start interacting with content, it’s easy to get lost in the video feed. Here’s how to get started. (These instructions were written for an iPhone, but the process for the Android app should be similar.)
- Download the app
- The first screen will ask you to choose what topics you’re interested in. Tap on the different buttons to select them. (You can also click “Skip” in the top-right corner.)
- The next screen explains how to scroll through TikTok. You can either swipe up or select “Start watching” to continue.
- On the bottom of your screen, you’ll see a set of buttons. From left to right, these buttons allow you to go to your “For You” page, search for content, create videos, access your messages (the “Inbox”), or view your profile (the “Me” button).
You’re ready to start watching videos! But you don’t have an account yet. If you want to post content, see and read messages, or get more personalized recommendations, you’ll need an account. To make one:
- Tap on either the “Inbox” or “Me” buttons
- Tap the pink “Sign up” button
- You can make an account using your phone number, email address, Facebook, Google, Apple, or Twitter account. (If you can’t see all of these options, tap the arrow below the visible options.) Let’s say you want to use your phone number or email address.
- First, you’ll have to input your date of birth. Tap “Next” when you’re ready.
- On the next screen, you can choose between using your phone number or email address. Use the tabs at the top to select which one you want to use for your account. Enter in your phone or email and then click “Next.” (You’ll probably have to verify your account, either by typing in a code or clicking on a link sent to your email.) Then you may be asked for additional verification. (I got a window asking me to slide a puzzle piece into place.)
- You’ll then be asked to create a password. Click “Next” when you’re done.
- Next, you’ll have to select a username. Once you come up with a unique one, click “Sign up.”
- You’re done!
When you set up an account, by default, everyone can see your videos, but you might want to set your account to private. This means that people will have to request to follow you in order to see your videos. Here’s how to put your account on private:
- Click on the “Me” button in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen
- Tap the three dots in the top-right corner
- Tap “Privacy and safety”
- Toggle on “Private account”
- You may also want to scroll down to access more privacy settings
Now you’re ready to watch videos and post your own! The more you use TikTok, the more you’ll get content tailored to you, which means (at least for me) the more time you’ll end up spending on the app.
The Verge’s Julia Alexander recommends taking time to really explore beyond the “For You” page by scrolling through different hashtags, looking up songs, and finding new creators to follow. To learn more about using the app, read her guide on navigating the culture, content, and niches of TikTok.
Update June 30th, 4:36PM ET: This article was updated to add a mention of recent privacy concerns.