How does a teenage dance app become an issue of national security?
The documentary TikTok, Boom. explores how a social media app, best known for videos of teenagers dancing, became the flashpoint of a geopolitical controversy between two superpowers — the U.S. and China.
From Emmy-nominated director Shalini Kantayya, of the critically-acclaimed film “Coded Bias,” TikTok, Boom. had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and makes its broadcast debut on Independent Lens on PBS on October 24, 2022 at 10 p.m. ET.
TikTok, Boom. explores the history-making app’s journey from its early origins as a music app, owned by the Chinese AI company ByteDance, to its explosion into the global public consciousness, and delves into the security issues behind the platform, such as content moderation and free speech, and its mental health impacts on young people.
TikTok, Boom. explores the app’s many layers, centering on the platform’s three well-known Gen Z influencers and content creators: Feroza Aziz, an Afghan American teen activist; Spencer X, an Ecuadorian Chinese American beatboxer; and Deja Foxx, a Filipino American political strategist and model. Each influencer shares their stories of how they catapulted to prominence on the platform, and how their instant stardom on the app has changed their lives, impacting everything from their careers to their mental health.
Intertwined with the stories of these creators are the insights of brave whistleblowers and noteworthy experts across the fields of technology, policy, and media, including: former technology reporter for the New York Times, Taylor Lorenz; Bloomberg News New York Bureau Chief Shelly Banjo; Center for Humane Technology Chief Mobilization Officer David Jay; All Tech Is Human Founder David Ryan Polgar; and more. Taken together, these expert interviews provide rare insight into questions of data collection, child online protection, and geopolitical national security tensions surrounding TikTok.
TikTok, Boom. focuses on TikTok’s rapid growth during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, following the creators’ journeys on the platform as they dovetailed with major political events, including the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the nation in 2020. Teen activists, influencers, and journalists shed light onto being “shadow banned” on TikTok, a term that references having one’s content shown to fewer users by the algorithm, i.e. being banned on the platform without formal notice. As TikTok eclipses Facebook and Instagram as the most downloaded social media app globally, the film delves into the geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China, illuminating the causes and impacts of President Trump’s proposed ban of the app, and the impact it would have had on creators and their careers.
“TikTok’s story is about the future of social media itself, and the increasing tension between democratic youth culture and authoritarian data surveillance,” Kantayya said in a statement. “I’m thrilled to helm such a timely film focusing on Gen Z influencers, and how technology meets, amplifies, and opposes our humanity.”
TikTok, Boom. was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and was an official selection at SXSW, SF Film, and HotDocs.
Watch the official trailer for TikTok, Boom.