The Washington PostThe Washington Post

How TikTok swept the internet

By Drew Harwell

14 Oct 2022 · 12 min read

Editor's Note

TikTok revolutionized the social media sphere. In this long-read piece, the Post looks closely at the power and influence that the app has had over recent years.

On the night Shelby Renae first went viral on TikTok, she felt so giddy she could barely sleep. She'd spent the evening painting her nails, refreshing her phone between each finger - 20,000 views; 40,000 - and by the next morning, after her video crossed 3 million views, she decided it had changed her life.

She didn't really understand why it had done so well. The 16-second clip of her playing the video game "Fortnite" was funny, she thought - but not, like, millions-of-views funny. She wasn't a celebrity: She grew up in Idaho; her last job was at a pizza shop. But this was just how the world's most popular app worked. TikTok's algorithm had made her a star.

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