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ICA2020 Panel on TikTok & Douyin


This page contains resources put together by a group of scholars for our International Communication Association 2020 (#ICA20) Conference panel on TikTok and Douyin. In light of COVID-19, the conference has gone virtual. As such, we have recorded our talks and a Q&A in video format. Given that many of our colleagues are managing increased workloads from the rapid shift to online teaching, we have structured our video to be reusable for use in classrooms. Please feel free to use this and the companion resources listed below.

If you’d like to engage with our panel, ask us questions, or get in touch, we will be available on Twitter at #ICAttdy.

About this panel

Short video platforms have fueled an unprecedented boom around the world since 2016. This panel presents a balanced look at TikTok and Douyin, the international and domestic versions of short-form video platforms from Chinese technology company, Bytedance. Panelists explore the parallel platformization TikTok and Douyin, the ecology and culture of TikTok, and the mediatization and patriotism of Douyin.

Short-Form Parallel Universes: Affordances, Activity, and Culture of TikTok and Douyin

by Crystal Abidin, Xu Chen, D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye, Mike S. Schäfer, Wei Wang, Jing Zeng (alphabetical)

Short-form video platforms, featuring video content between 15 and 60 seconds long, are immensely popular in China but failed to take root in the West, as illustrated by Twitter shutting down rising short video platform, Vine, in 2016. It was not until the launch of TikTok, an internationalized version of Chinese short-form video platform, Douyin, that short form popularity began to spread in the West. Within two years since its launch in 2017, TikTok has emerged to rival digital platforms like Instagram and Facebook, with over one billion downloads in 150 markets worldwide and 75 languages. This panel seeks to understand the cultural and sociopolitical implications of the flourishing short video platforms.  

Developed and owned by Chinese tech company, Bytedance, TikTok and Douyin appear virtually identical at face value. Closer critical examination reveals the subtle distinctions in approaches to content, application infrastructures, and platform culture between the two. This panel takes a balanced approach to interrogating TikTok and Douyin with presentations from a diverse group of scholars looking at the two apps separately and side-by-side. 

Video (1:55:27) here.

  • The Introduction [0:00:00] presents a brief overview of the speakers and structure of this video.
  • Paper one [0:04:05] discusses the parallel approaches taken by TikTok and Douyin that have led both platforms to thrive in diametrically opposed markets and regulatory environments. 
  • Paper two [0:14:10] focuses on how traditional localism is activated, mediated, and redefined on short-form video platforms like Douyin.
  • Paper three [0:32:30] will describe the way ‘playful patriotism’, in the form of strategically deployed nationalistic content, maintains connections with audiences in China while appeasing state regulators on Douyin.
  • Paper four [0:45:00] examines how the short video culture on TikTok shapes and challenges science communication, via examining science and pseudoscience memes. 
  • Paper five [1:01:30] considers the ways mixed race young people share their lived experiences and practice call-out culture, to understand the visual ecologies of activism on the app. 
  • Discussion Q1 [1:19:30] offers reflections from panelists on short video platforms.
  • Discussion Q2 [1:35:30] offer reflections from the panelists on short video cultures.
  • Conclusion [1:49:45] offers brief remarks to close our panel.


Introduction to speakers and panel structure.

Paper one 
Dancing in Chains: Parallel Platformization of TikTok and Douyin
by D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye (Queensland University of Technology)

TikTok is the international version of China’s short video app, Douyin, and one of the fastest growing short video platforms in the world. Owned by the Chinese tech giant, ByteDance, TikTok and Douyin share many similarities in terms of appearance, functionality, and platform affordances; however they exist in radically different environments. As such, ByteDance’s commercial success in China and abroad has relied on adapting TikTok and Douyin to better fit the expectations, cultures, and policy frameworks in divergent markets. Given the malleable nature of social media platforms more nuanced complexities emerge in the approaches, political economy, and governance of TikTok and Douyin respectively. Using the app walkthrough method informed by platformization of culture production framework, this study highlights the similarities and interrogates the distinctions between these two parallel platforms. This study shows that Bytedance employs a parallel approach to platformization of TikTok and Douyin through app-infrastructures, market strategies, and platform governance.

D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye is the Editorial Assistant for Media Industries Journal, a PhD candidate in the Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) at Queensland University of Technology, and an avid musician. His research interests include digital music, cultural policy, and platform regulation. He holds a Master’s of Science in Mass Communication from Kansas State University (US).

Suggested reading
–Chen, X. (2019). TikTok is popular, but Chinese apps still have a lot to learn about global markets. The Conversation. [Click]
–de Kloet, J., Poell, T., Guohua, Z., & Yiu Fai, C. (2019). The platformization of Chinese Society: Infrastructure, governance, and practice. Chinese Journal of Communication, 12(3), 249–256. [Click]
–Nieborg, D. B., & Poell, T. (2018). The platformization of cultural production: Theorizing the contingent cultural commodity. New Media & Society, 20(11), 4275–4292. [Click]

Paper two 
Douyin and Short Video-Mediated Localism in China
by Wei Wang Shanghai (Jiao Tong University)

Together with other short video applications, Douyin represents one of the most popular ways of obtaining information, socializing with friends, and entertaining in China. On Douyin, short videos showcasing local areas at the county or village level, such as local food, events, and scenery, are very popular. These videos have attracted wide audiences, particularly local residents in the same county or village and migrants who come from the same area. This paper investigates the intertwinement of localism that defines traditional Chinese society and new media practices. It discusses issues including: How an attachment to local areas is manifested and renegotiated through social interaction on Douyin; how local Internet celebrities emerge on Douyin and mediate representations of local areas, local residents, and migrants; and how nostalgia finds its new expressions. Another emergent feature is how urban-rural relations are reimagined through mediation on short video apps. Following from this, the paper focuses on how traditional localism is activated, mediated, and redefined on short video platforms.

Dr. Wei Wang is a lecturer at USC-SJTU Institute of Cultural and Creative Industry, Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Her overarching research inquiry focuses on social transformations that define the contemporary era. She is interested in how, why, and for whom Information and Communication Technologies are designed, produced, and consumed. This is situated in the tensions between the neoliberalization of a globally networked economy and alternative socio-political practices. She is also interested in the social impact of ICTs. Her research has been in constant dialogue with literature on the political economy of communication, ICTs for development, media effects, and China studies.

Suggested reading
–Harwit, E. (2017). WeChat: social and political development of China’s dominant messaging app. Chinese Journal of Communication, 10, 312–327. [Click]
–Lin, J., & de Kloet, J. (2019). Platformization of the Unlikely Creative Class: Kuaishou and Chinese Digital Cultural Production. Social Media+Society, 5(4), 1–12. [Click]
–Perry, E.J. (1994). Trends in the Study of Chinese Politics: State-Society Relations. The China Quarterly, 139, 704–713. [Click]

Paper three
Shaping #PositiveEnergy Douyin: Constructing ‘Playful Patriotism’ on a Chinese Short Video Application
by Xu Chen (Queensland University of Technology)

‘Positive energy (zheng nengliang)’, which stands for a positive psychology, embodies the mainstream ideology in China and has been a buzzword in Chinese political domains since 2012. This term has also become prominent on Douyin, a Chinese short-video app. By 12 June 2018, there were over 500 Chinese governmental accounts on Douyin promoting ‘positive energy’ videos, with contents being viewed over 1.6 billion times. Moreover, Douyin has designed a feature called ‘Positive Energy’ that is incorporated into its ‘Trending’ homepage. Adding a positive energy feature on Douyin is significant as the Chinese government has accused, and even permanently shut down, several digital platforms for spreading what it considers ‘vulgarity’. This paper discusses how Douyin endeavours to align itself with the Chinese state’s political agenda by promoting a form of ‘playful patriotism’. This study employs the walkthrough method and content analysis of over 800 videos collected under the ‘Positive Energy’ section of Douyin.

Xu Chen is a PhD candidate in the Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) at Queensland University of Technology. Xu’s PhD project looks at how Australian Chinese diasporas engage with dating apps Tinder and Tantan. His research interests include digital (dating) cultures, diaspora studies and platform studies. He has published on the topics of short video apps and internet regulation in China.

Suggested reading
–Chen, X., Kaye, D.B.V., Zeng, J. (forthcoming, 2020). #PositiveEnergy Douyin: Constructing ‘Playful Patriotism’ on a Chinese Short Video Application. Chinese Journal of Communication. [Click]
–Li, M., Tan, C. K. K., & Yang, Y. (2019). Shehui Ren: Cultural production and rural youths’ use of the Kuaishou video-sharing app in Eastern China. Information, Communication & Society, 1–16. [Click]
–Lin, J., & de Kloet, J. (2019). Platformization of the Unlikely Creative Class: Kuaishou and Chinese Digital Cultural Production. Social Media+Society, 5(4), 1–12. [Click]

Paper four
Teaching or trolling? A content analysis of science and pseudoscience memes on TikTok
by Jing Zeng & Mike S. Schäfer (University of Zurich)

TikTok – a short video app of Chinese origin – has become a large and quickly expanding social media platform around the world. Alongside videos of users lip-syncing to trending music, doing dance routines, and acting out funny scenarios, science-related content performed by amateur science hobbists is becoming increasingly visible on TikTok. From Diet Coke-Mentos explosions to colour-changing chemistry tricks, science experiments are being turned into playful TikTok videos. As of October 2019, the #scienceiscool hashtag accumulated over 300 million views on the platform. Among TikTok’s science content, however, are videos with pseudo-scientific content made to lure viewers’ attention and interactions. This is part of the wider internet culture of ‘troll science’ that misrepresents science and frustrates educators and students. This presentation focuses on how the platform culture of TikTok is shaping and challenging the way science is communicated. Findings are drawn from a qualitative analysis of videos collected through an interconnected series of science-related hashtags. We critically reflect on TikTok’s prospects on ‘popularizing’ science to a young audience, and raise concerns over its potential to undermine the legitimacy of science.

Dr. Jing Zeng is a senior research associate at the science communication division under Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ), University of Zurich. Receiving her research training from Oxford Internet Institute (UK) and Digital Media Research Centre (Australia), Jing has extensive experience in conducting both qualitative and quantitative research of digital culture. Her recent publications cover topics of social media, online misinformation, and digital culture.

Mike S. Schäfer is professor of science communication and director of the Centre of Higher Education and Science Studies (CHESS) at the University of Zurich. He also heads the AGORA commission for science communication of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). Schäfer’s research focuses on public communication about science and technology, especially in online environments.

Suggested reading
–Abidin, C. (2017). #familygoals: Family influencers, calibrated amateurism, and justifying young digital labor. Social Media+Society, 3(2). [Click]
–Burgess, J. (2006). Hearing ordinary voices: Cultural studies, vernacular creativity and digital storytelling. Continuum, 20(2), 201-214. [Click]
–Hargittai, E., Füchslin, T., & Schäfer, M. S. (2018). How do young adults engage with science and research on social media? Some preliminary findings and an agenda for future research. Social Media+Society, 4(3). [Click]

Paper five
#WAsian (White-Asian) on TikTok and Activism through Entertainment
by Crystal Abidin (Curtin University)

Since launching Douyin (September 2016) for the domestic market and acquiring predecessor app (November 2017), Chinese tech company ByteDance’s short video app TikTok (September 2017) has taken off in the international market. One of the emergent norms among young people has been to use TikTok performances as commentary and critique on various issues. This paper focuses on one such thread, looking specifically at #WAsian – a thread dedicated to and populated by White-Asian mixed race young people who share their lived experiences. Such TikTok posts have showcased snapshots of multicultural families, addressed stereotypes, and shed light on mixed race struggles in various social settings. Encoded in the entertainment value are often attempts by TikTokers to call out bad behaviour, promote advocacy, and stimulate discussion among their peers. Following from this, this paper focuses on the variety of visual vocabularies and paratexts employed by TikTokers to understand the emergent ecologies of activism on the app.

Dr Crystal Abidin is a socio-cultural anthropologist of vernacular internet cultures, particularly young people’s relationships with internet celebrity, self-curation, and vulnerability. She is Senior Research Fellow & ARC DECRA Fellow in Internet Studies at Curtin University, and Affiliate Researcher with the Media Management and Transformation Centre at Jönköping University. Her books include Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online (2018), Microcelebrity Around the Globe: Approaches to Cultures of Internet Fame (co-editor Brown, 2018), Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures (co-authors Leaver & Highfield, 2019), and Mediated Interfaces: The Body on Social Media (co-editors Warfield & Cambre 2020).

Suggested reading
–Abidin, Crystal. 2019. “Minahs and Minority Celebrity: Parody YouTube Influencers and Minority Politics in Singapore.” Celebrity Studies (Online first) [Click]
–Bogle, Ariel. 2019. “Students are fighting climate change, one TikTok video at a time.” ABC News, 19 September. [Click]
–Vivienne, Son. 2016. Digital Identity and Everyday Activism: Sharing Private Stories with Networked Publics. Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan. [Click]


On short video platforms [1:19:30]:
When you think about short video platforms, what is specific about their affordances or features that requires you to look more in depth in this space?

On short video cultures [1:35:30]:
Reflecting on the specific phenomena or subculture that you are looking at on TikTok or Douyin, what is one takeaway that is very specific to your group on these platforms that they probably would not be able to replicate or perform on other social media platforms?

Concluding remarks [1:49:45]

Contact us 

Crystal Abidin
–Twitter: @wishcrys
–Email: crystalabidin[at]
–Web: Click
–Instagram: wishcrysdotcom

Xu Chen
–Email: hichenxu[at]

D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye
–Twitter: @bondykaye
–Email: bondykaye[at], d2.kaye[at]
–TikTok: testacctresearchkaye
–Spotify: Parallel Path

Mike S. Schäfer
–Twitter: @mss7676
–Email: m.schaefer[at]
–Website: Click

Wei Wang
–Email: wangwei1115[at]
–Website: Click

Jing Zeng
–Twitter: @Meg_Zeng
–Email: j.zeng[at]
–Website: Click

PS: Please enjoy this Easter Egg.

This page was last updated on 14 May 2020.