TikTok LIVE: From the Harmful to the Wholesome to the Just Plain Strange

We've spent some time on TikTok LIVE. Here's what we've observed...
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Created by VoiceBox

Published on Jan 23, 2023
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Going live on TikTok is not a new concept. While it’s not the platform’s most popular feature, plenty of creators use it for a more intimate experience with their followers – whether that be through hosting debates, popular GRWMs (get ready with me), or Q+As, to name a few. Here’s some trends we’ve observed.  

Creators can make money from TikTok’s ‘Gift' feature whereby fans over 18 send digital gifts during a livestream through TikTok’s in-app currency. Creators have the option to redeem these gifts for money – a potentially viable way to monetise the effort that goes into maintaining a following. But concerns about this feature have cropped up in recent years, with reports of children and young people being exploited out of large sums, as well as occurrences of refugees using the platform to beg viewers for ‘gifts’. There is also the more recent revelation that TikTok may take up to 70% of the proceeds from users. This is worrying for both creators and fans; the fans who feel pressured to give away their money, and the creators who only get a fraction of that revenue. While we understand that TikTok needs to make money in order to operate, it is important to be transparent about where users’ money is going.

Another alarming trend we found from TikTok’s ‘Gift’ feature was the number of young people exhibiting sexualised undertones during their Live. Many young people (primarily young women) offered to say various phrases on camera to viewers who sent them gifts, such as “daddy”, or “meow”. The sexualisation of those who are obviously young – perhaps even underage – is a concerning one, particularly during a time where many people are struggling for money.

On the slightly wackier side sits the ‘sleeping’ trend; a money-making concept where a creator ‘falls asleep’ on their Live. The caption would encourage audience members to donate in order to send an alert to the creator’s phone and wake them up. Some people have even made their rooms “interactive” so flashing lights, sirens etc will go off depending on the gift donated. The more outrageous the reaction to being disturbed, the more gifts they received. A creative form of monetisation for sure. But exploitative? Open to debate. We also discovered creators performing Live ASMR, and ‘psychics’ who would do Live readings for those who donated gifts.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing features on TikTok Live is the ability to join someone else’s livestream. Users who have tuned in to watch a creator’s broadcast are able to request to take part in the live, almost like a public video call where you can watch two or more people interacting. Broadcasting with another person, conceptually at least, holds water. It’s a great way for creators to reap increased engagement as two or more audiences come together to watch debates, discussions about culture, comedy and more. 

But these facetime-esque features are not without risk. During our research, we were fed Live videos between two young women who were touching on sexualised conversations such as lingerie. We observed uncomfortable comments asking if the women are single and making remarks about their clothes. Alarmingly, we also found women advertising their OnlyFans and private Instagram – including a ‘spicy, free’ page with pictures for their dedicated audience members. For a Live function that often delivers users completely randomised videos, we are concerned for the possibility that minors are exposed to sexualised content. 

But it wasn't just sexualised content on the joint-live feature. Our research found creators running a slightly odd form of community building; refusing to speak on a livestream until a ‘hot’ person joined, or something funny was said. Viewers could request to take part in the Live by telling a joke or showing their face in order to get the host to talk. We can only describe it as watching a very bizarre series of auditions.

There were also positive sides to TikTok Live, where two cultures came together to discuss their different countries and experiences. This side of the platform is certainly a much more wholesome and educational occurrence that is a nice way to connect with people across the world. We also saw small businesses showcasing their products Live and packing customer orders. Small musicians also use the feature to put on virtual concerts from their home, a nice way to gain exposure through the randomised way users are fed livestreams. 

Because anyone can request to join a livestream, creators may potentially be faced with interactions ranging from positive, to slightly weird, to downright harmful. For aspiring creators with a small following, we are concerned that a justified eagerness to reach new audiences might be met with negative experiences that put them off pursuing something they enjoy. 

If you have any further thoughts on TikTok Live, please email: info@voicebox.site to ensure your voice is heard.

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