TikTok is trying hard to shape its image as an international app. But a satirical meme that took off around April revolves around poking fun at the app’s Chinese roots—and at China itself.
Hundreds of videos “praising” China and its president Xi Jinping have been posted on the app by users mainly in the US and Europe, set to the tune of the Chinese national anthem. With the Chinese national flag and an image of Xi in the background, the teens pretend to interact with the Chinese leader, giving him a kiss on the cheek or raising a toast together.
Some of the users say that they’re making these over-the-top videos because they believe they have been shadow banned or to get featured on the app’s “For You” feeds—TikTok’s personalized recommendations for users. Shadow banning is a practice believed to be deployed by many social media platforms to reduce the visibility of a post or even stop it from being seen by other users, without the uploader being aware of the ban as they can still post freely. By posting these videos, often hashtagged #ilovechina, the thinking among some is that they will gain views and followers since China is the home base of TikTok’s parent ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup.