INDEPENDENT LENS: Tiktok, Boom. | KPBS Public Media

Premieres Monday, October 24, 2022 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / PBS Video App

How does a teen dance app become a national security issue? From Emmy-nominated director Shalini Kantayya of the critically acclaimed film “Coded Bias,” “TikTok, Boom.” makes its broadcast debut on INDEPENDENT LENS.

INDEPENDENT LENS: Trailer | Tiktok, Boom.

“TikTok, Boom.” explores how a social media app, best known for its videos of dancing teenagers, became the flashpoint of a geopolitical controversy between two superpowers – the United States and China. This Sundance favorite explores the impact of an app that eclipsed Silicon Valley to become a global cultural phenomenon reshaping the world. A cast of Gen Z influencers are at the heart of the film, making it one of the most needed and empathetic films exploring what it means to be a digital native.

Content creator Jason Zhang does a live stream

“TikTok, Boom.” explores the journey of the landmark app from its beginnings as a music app, owned by Chinese artificial intelligence company ByteDance, to its explosion into global public consciousness, and delves into the security issues behind the platform, such as content moderation and free speech, and its effects on the mental health of young people.

Beat boxer Spencer X in Los Angeles

Beat boxer Spencer X in Los Angeles

Praised by The Wrap as “captivating” and by Variety as “lively, informative” “TikTok, Boom.” explores the many layers of the app, focusing on the platform’s three well-known Gen Z influencers and content creators: Feroza Aziz, a teenage Afghan American activist; Spencer X, a Chinese-American beatboxer from Ecuador; and Deja Foxx, a Filipina American political strategist and model.

Political strategist Deja Foxx in Southern California

Political strategist, Deja Foxx, in Southern California.

Each influencer shares their stories of how they were catapulted onto the platform and how their instant stardom on the app changed their life, affecting everything from their career to their mental health.

Adding to the stories of these creators are the insights of brave whistleblowers and notable experts in technology, politics and media, including:

Taken together, these expert interviews provide rare insight into issues of data collection, child online protection, and national security geopolitical tensions surrounding TikTok.
“TikTok, boom. focuses on TikTok’s rapid growth during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, following creators’ journeys on the platform as they intertwined with major political events, including the Black Lives movement Matter that swept the nation in 2020. Teen activists, influencers, and journalists have shed light on being “shadowbanned” on TikTok, a term that refers to the fact that its content is shown unless of users by the algorithm, i.e. being banned from the platform without formal notice.

TikTok influencer Deja Foxx and her sister in Southern California.

TikTok influencer Deja Foxx and her sister in Southern California.

As TikTok eclipses Facebook and Instagram as the world’s most downloaded social media app, the film delves into the geopolitical tensions between the United States and China, illuminating the causes and impacts of China’s proposed ban. President Trump’s 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 growing tension between democratic youth culture and authoritarian data surveillance,” Kantayya said in a statement. “I’m thrilled to direct such a timely film focused on Gen Z influencers and how technology meets, amplifies and opposes our humanity.”

Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and was an official selection at SXSW, SF Film and HotDocs

TikTok influencer Feroza Aziz at the arcade

TikTok influencer Feroza Aziz at the arcade

Watch at your own pace:

Episodes are available on demand for a limited time after broadcast.

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A Campfire Studios production in association with Olive Hill Media and Such Content. Director: Shalini Kantayya. Producers: Ross Dinerstein and Danni Mynard. Executive producers: Lois Vossen and Sally Jo Fifer.

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