Why is TikTok so popular?

TikTok is well on its way to becoming the world’s most important app. While it is unlikely to catch up to Facebook and Instagram’s vast user base any time soon, the immersive nature of TikTok’s algorithm has collected enormous amounts of data on its 1.5 billion users, giving remarkable power to advertisers on the platform.


The app’s main draw is the For You page, a constant stream of video that is deliberately built to trigger compulsive use, with a mix of vloging, viral video challenges, and loads of advertisements. TikTok’s algorithm is known to intentionally show controversial videos intended to make users angry or sad, with the purpose of eliciting an emotional response. A recent study showed that it can take less than three minutes after creating a TikTok account for a 13-year-old—the minimum user age to sign up for the app—to see content related to suicide, and about five more minutes to find a community promoting eating disorder content.

According to leaked internal documents from 2021, TikTok optimizes content for minutes and hours of view times, as opposed to traditional metrics like clicks and likes, with its algorithm considered to be faster than any other platform at detecting even the most subconscious areas of interest.


TikTok’s For You page represents the most successful iteration of Big Tech’s switch from chronological to algorithmic feeds, meant to learn as much information as possible about consumers, before getting them hooked on content they haven’t searched for. And, with 16% of American teenagers reporting they use TikTok “almost constantly,” it seems like TikTok has done its job.

Teen social media use, by the numbers

2/3: Portion of US teens who use TikTok, making it the second most popular social media for young people, after YouTube.


16%: Percentage of teens who say that they use TikTok “almost constantly.”

95%: Percentage of American teens, ages 13-17, who report they have constant access to a smartphone.


1/3: Portion of teen girls who felt worse about their bodies after using Instagram, according to leaked internal documents at Meta.

72%: Percentage of teenagers who report being cyberbullied.

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Editors note: This story incorrectly identified TikTok as the most popular app for young people in the US. It is the second most popular, after YouTube.

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