29 January 2022
I have a new desk. In a new office. It is Saturday. Days go by. And i never needed you. Trentemøller Remix. I thought i better pin down what has and still is happening concerning my work on TikTok. To reassure myself and to get it out of my head.
The start of the newsletter Understanding TikTok was basically just that. Trying to grasp what was happening day-in and day-out. I felt the urgent need to get behind some of the core concepts of the platform, wanted to understand many of the weird game types and endless subcultures. The refreshing "loving strangers" per swipe felt right, especially contrasting it to an always ever more claustrophobic expectability on especially Insta.
Writing in a more structured and "official" way felt like the right thing to do next. You are invisible otherwise. I had just experienced that with my favorite topic Newsgames 2009 - 2016. So it came in quite handy that Rosa Luxemburg Foundation was looking for someone to write a little report on TikTok and political communication (german). Chris Köver and me worked on that end of 2020 - beginning 2021. I defined a handful of platform specific design elements that often occur in successful TikTok videos.
Examples can be found in this thread i set up for a conference. In July 2021 Brandi from Mozilla Foundation got in contact with me. Mozilla was looking for someone to investigate the German Federal Election and TikTok. So i got a freelance contract for five months that said TikTok Researcher in pretty bold typo on top and after signing that i guess i turned into a TikTok researcher.
Working with the entire Mozilla team and partners like Algorithmic Transparency Institute and the BR Data lab was a bliss. I learned a lot and ended up doing actual research with a burner phone and a fake account and through scrolling through a lot of TikTok videos. After identifying several obvious fake accounts impersonating e.g. the german parliament i could combine journalistic skills (basically talking to a lot of people on the telephone) and qualitative research by observing and doing an in-depth analysis of the accounts in question.
The report (Broken promises) sparked some interest. And i ended up on public television (Kontraste) talking about the findings in front of the Reichstag. The findings even made it on the front page of BILD. Can you imagine? On September 17 TikTok was "loser of the day" including some of the findings.
Are you already falling asleep? I am sorry. End of October i presented some of the findings and my take on TikTok journalism at Storyday21. What a coincidence. Prof. Christian Stöcker offered me a job right after my presentation. So here we are. Since december 2021 i am a part-time research fellow focusing on disinformation.
So i am in the midst of bringing together my research interest in TikTok and disinformation together right now. Before you are asking. Yes, there is actual disinformation on the platform. And oh, if you are unsure about the term disinformation. Well, "as Jack (2017) and Wardle and Derakhshan (2017) note, disinformation scholars, journalists, policymakers, and other workers in the arena of political communication employ a wide array of subtly different but equally loaded definitions." (*)
So that will be one thing for a start to find common ground and a suitable definition of disinformation somewhere on the information disorder spectrum. Pretty complex, diverse and multi-modal indeed. Concerning TikTok: Thank god i identified a handful of potential use cases in the last 1,5 years while working on the newsletter – Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Germany, USA, Myanmar, TikTok Intifada. And Covid of course.
I am interested in how platform specific elements (see above) are used to spread disinformation on TikTok. I read a pretty interesting dissertation the other day on "Political Disinformation, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Memes: A Content Analysis of 2020 U.S. Election Political Memes". And i would love to adopt that to TikTok, especially paying attention to the notion of sound. Because the audio meme is pretty unique to TikTok, right?! Compare the ‘aural turn’ of memes on TikTok (Abidin & Kaye 2021).
It is dark outside now. I ate all cashew nuts. And i have not even started writing the pre-proposal as promised and planned for today.