With all the newfound time on people’s hands, many have turned to different kinds of hobbies to fill their free time. From baking bread to kombucha brewing, there are myriad different activities people have taken on during the quarantine. However, many, including myself, have started using TikTok.
Like its predecessor apps Vine and musical.ly, TikTok is a short-form video-sharing app. The app is owned by a Beijing company called ByteDance and was first launched in China in September 2016. However, it didn’t debut in the United States until 2018, when it merged with musical.ly in August. Since then it has made its way to the top of the Apple Store and Google Play download charts and currently serves about 800 million monthly active users worldwide.
As one can imagine, all 800 million users do not see the same videos. The TikTok experience differs dramatically from user to user. In fact, many users consider there to be two sides to the app, “the Elite Side” and “the Straight Side.” This division largely stems from the way the app recommends videos to its many users.
How does TikTok work?
The app has two feeds: your following feed with content from those that you follow, and your “for you page.” However, most user engagement is with the “for you page,” also known by its abbreviation, “FYP.”
According to the app, “This feed is powered by a recommendation system that delivers content to each user that is likely to be of interest to that particular user. Part of this app’s magic is that there’s no one exclusive For You feed — while different people may come upon some of the same standout videos, each person’s feed is unique and tailored to that specific individual.” The recommendation system mentioned is also known by users as the “TikTok algorithm.” While there was speculation about how exactly the “for you page” algorithm works, the video-sharing app recently explained its wonders.
“The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors – starting from interests you express as a new user and adjusting for things you indicate you’re not interested in, too – to form your personalized For You feed” states the the app’s website. These factors include user interactions (videos you like and the accounts you follow), video information (details like captions, sounds and hashtags), and device and account settings (like language preference, country setting and device type). Essentially, the algorithm takes account of what you’ve liked in the past and fills your “for you page” with similar content. It’s almost like the Netflix “recommended for you” page, except it never ends. It’s a bottomless pit where you can spend hours scrolling, with no end in sight.
What is Straight?
Straight TikTok is characterized as the more mainstream and stereotypical TikTok content. There are users attempting to dance like TikTok celebrity Charli D’Amelio, and of course, videos of Charli herself. There are countless “POV” (point of view) videos, in which the video is shot from a first-person perspective to make the viewer feel as though they are directly being addressed (look up boyfriend roleplay to get a better idea of what I mean). And of course, there’s the group of TikTok content creators that live together in Los Angeles in the coveted Hype House.
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Additionally, while the name might suggest the sexuality of its followers, this is not in fact true. You don’t have to be straight to be on Straight TikTok. Even if you are straight, you may still find yourself on the other side: the so-called Elite division.
What is Elite?
Elite TikTok, also known as Alternative (often abbreviated Alt) or Gay TikTok (again, not correlated with sexuality), strays from the “traditional” content found on Straight TikTok. Rather than dance and lip-sync videos, Elite consists of what can best be described as more “edgy” content.
For example, Elite is full of videos imitating former Disney actress Debby Ryan, for no apparent reason other than her subpar acting. Elite Users also started a movement (#freeadam) to rescue Adam Jones from the Chicago-based family-band SM6, claiming that he’s way more talented than the rest of his family. There are also certain TikTok sounds that can only be found on the Elite side of TikTok. Confused by all of this? That’s okay. Elite is essentially a series of inside jokes that only those who are on that side of TikTok would understand.
Elite has also played a large role in recent events. Just a few weeks ago, Elite TikTok and K-pop fans teamed up to lower attendance at Trump’s Tulsa rally. Elite truly is the epitome of chaotic good.
Many Elite users see themselves as superior to Straight TikTok (hence the term elite).
As one highly liked Urban Dictionary definition, likely submitted by a member of Elite TikTok, reads: “It [straight TikTok] is very boring and if you are on straight TikTok you are probably boring.”
There are also countless videos of Elite TikTokers mocking Straight TikTok. So of course, all hell broke loose on the Elite side when Hype House member Avani Gregg claimed to be “one of them.” Guess Elite isn’t for everyone.
Are there really only two sides?
The idea of two sides is a gross oversimplification. There are many other “sides” and subdivisions of Elite TikTok that you may happen upon: Retail TikTok, DeepTok and Beans TikTok (yes you read that right) to name a few. However, the feud between Straight and Elite is the most well-known — for now, that is.
Curious what side you’re on? You can take any of the many quizzes circulating, or just go to your “for you page” and see what kinds of things repeatedly come up. Happy scrolling!