TikTok – A Successful (un)ethical tale!

Can an application decide your actions and influence you a lot, such that it becomes an inevitable part of your life? The answer is “yes, there is one called TikTok”! Most of us are very familiar with TikTok and might be one among the billion people who use or used to spend time on TikTok. 

Since its debut in September 2016, TikTok has attracted a large number of users. Particularly young people, who use the app to watch, create and comment on “Lip sync-Videos.” Within a small period of time, it could come up as one of the most popular social networking apps in the market today.  

However, amidst its hype, on June 29, 2020 the Govt. of India decided to block 59 apps, including TikTok. This was on the grounds that they “posed a threat to sovereignty and integrity of India”. Despite its success in terms of user numbers, there are very few psychological studies that aim at understanding how the use of TikTok becomes addictive.    

It is interesting to analyze the design of TikTok – the tactics they employ to attract and engage users, enroll new users, develop habit loops, drive our behavior, and keep us hooked to the app, by interpreting our behavioral psychology!

It displays an endless stream of videos which pulls the users back into a rabbit hole of engaging visuals. Unlike other social media apps, TikTok serves the role of a complete entertainment app, more than a platform to connect with others. 

How it get started?

TikTok starts with a really cool ‘Sign Up’ or registration page. The sign-up screen is made simple, clean and focused, based on user action. This ensures there are no unnecessary distractions. It is because the majority of people are already aware of what TikTok is, how and why they should sign up to the app. The sign-up options choice architecture is structured like they only ask three of the requirements at a time, hiding the rest. 

“The more choices users have, the harder it’s for them to make one!”

– Hick’s law

Hence, it is irrelevant to display all possible alternatives at once. So, the preferred ones can be displayed first. This makes the task of choosing, easier for the user.

TikTok uses a simple UX design with a good layout, positioning, interaction, and elimination of unneeded steps in order to build an engaging experience for its users.
TikTok uses a simple UX design with a good layout, positioning, interaction, and elimination of unneeded steps in order to build an engaging experience for its users.

The registration procedure is simple and swift.  All that a user needs to do is validate his/her birthday, phone number or email address that leads to sending automatically-generated confirmation code. One job per step is a quick-fix, because people’s usual mentality is that – “If you want people to do something, make it as easy as possible”.

According to BJ Fogg’s behavior theory, motivation, ability and trigger are essential if you want to convince someone to do something. They combine to generate a simple human behaviour formula. People need the desire to do something, the ability to accomplish it and a trigger to make them act. 

TikTok tries its maximum to reduce the amount of user interactions and ensure the task of its user is minimal. For Eg: TikTok don’t ask the users to type their mobile number, instead they just have to tap once. Similarly, the country code is pre-filled by detecting the phone’s location. This completes the user’s profile and then give guidelines to use the app.

How it works?

The major goal of any application is to ensure its audience or users stick to the application. TikTok accomplishes this in two ways.

Soon after the onboarding process, the users are led to an auto played video. This video will be highly captivating that already has a great reach. This will make the user rewatch it, like and share it with others. The quality of the video in terms of the visuals and content, also determines the reach of it and the rate of engagement. 

The user experience of TikTok is quite high. This happens automatically with no effort or notice from the side of the audience. One of the good features of TikTok is that it allows to focus only video per screen. which avoids distraction from other videos.

Over 40% of Gen Z users prefer TikTok and Instagram over Google search.
Over 40% of Gen Z users prefer TikTok and Instagram over Google search.

The notifications are visible on the top and bottom of the screen in the application. The ‘following’ notification on the top indicates that the user is following someone, whose content he/she is currently watching. The “swipe up” option is a psychological approach which makes the viewers get addicted to its feed. But the viewers won’t realize while they use the app. 

Also, users can navigate to use the chat box to leave comments or start a conversation with the creators of the content. There are ethical issues concerning behavior-changing apps like TikTok. But its unethical side goes inconspicuous. The users forget themselves being observed by a third person while they are immersed into the engaging contents.


The video production in TikTok is very simple such that anyone with less technical knowledge can create and upload a video, then add music from the collection, filters, and effects to complete the project. 

Once the video is uploaded, there are options on the top of the screen for sharing it. The idea of TikTok’s business model is well executed with fast content. This contains 15 seconds of homemade videos, with dancing, lip-sync, and make-up challenges. TikTok is successful in keeping its users engaged as the video duration is limited to a maximum of one minute. They make the process of sharing easy and helps to boost creativity. 

Another impressive feature in TikTok is that it ensures the users are clinging to the content in the screen. This helps in reducing the bouncing rate and ultimately improves the stickiness index. The User Interface is structured in a manner that guarantees the users would rarely move away from the Home screen. Thus, it is understood that TikTok has diverse behavioral psychology methods. These methods helps TikTok to attract its users. The app’s architecture is done in a way that will bring the consumers back. This is because of its ease of use and fascinating content. 

It is an app just like Instagram, Clubhouse and Snapchat, but with smart algorithms and a better business model. TikTok’s business model understands the thought  process or psychology of each of its users and gives suggestions or notifications accordingly. The usability is undeniably high as the interaction patterns of TikTok are very familiar even for the general public. Hence, there is no wonder that TikTok escalated to the most user-friendly and popular application in the world!