clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

This week in TikTok: Maybe don’t do the “mugshot challenge”

Plus, why TikTok is irreplaceable.

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! On Tuesdays, internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings uses this space to update you all on what’s been going on in the world of TikTok. Is there something you want to see more of? Less of? Different of? Email me at, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.

Here’s a bit of news that would likely be a bigger deal were it not for an ongoing pandemic: YouTube is currently developing a TikTok competitor called Shorts, which will include a main feed of videos and a music catalog. It’s “the most serious effort yet by a Silicon Valley tech company to combat the rise of TikTok,” according to the Information, which first reported the news.

There have been other attempts to do this: Instagram Reels is currently testing in Brazil, while since 2018 its parent company Facebook has had Lasso, which hasn’t really contributed anything significant to online culture so far. Byte, which launched in January by the founder of Vine, hasn’t seemed to make much of a dent in TikTok’s domination of infuriatingly watchable shortform content, either.

YouTube, however, is already a place people go to spend hours watching videos. But Josh Constine, editor-at-large at TechCrunch, makes a pretty good point on why even YouTube probably can’t break into the field in a meaningful way: the “content network effect.”

Basically, Constine argues that because the joy of TikTok comes from the ability to react to, build on, or take inspiration from its infinite supply of videos, TikTok’s massive back catalog gives it a huge advantage. Features that allow you to use the same sound as or post side-by-sides of a certain video lower the barrier to producing engaging content, and each new video provides source material for another one in the future.

TikTok already has millions of popular creators and viral videos, and even though it isn’t as much of a household name as YouTube or Facebook, it’s created a highly valuable and interconnected universe with its own quirky vernacular that doesn’t exist anywhere else on social media.

Ultimately, it’s unclear what YouTube’s Shorts will build that TikTok isn’t already doing better. But hey, if there’s a bunch of weird teens goofing off in their house during quarantine (if that’s still a thing by the time it launches), I’ll probably be watching.

Here’s what else is going on with TikTok, most of which is (surprisingly) non-coronavirus related!

TikTok in the news

  • Thirstiest rapper in the world Drake has released a song that comes with its own dance instructions, and if it sounds like music that was perfectly engineered for TikTok, that’s because it was. Toosie, the Atlanta-based dancer who choreographed the “Toosie Slide,” told Rolling Stone that earlier this year, Drake called him up and asked if he’d come up with a dance to go alongside a hook he was working on. I have yet to see a single person doing the “Toosie Slide” on my For You page.
  • Douyin, TikTok’s sister brand and Chinese counterpart, temporarily banned several creators for speaking Cantonese rather than Mandarin on their livestreams. Pop-ups on users’ accounts reportedly advised creators to “Please speak Mandarin to involve more users from other areas (of China).” Read David Paulk of China-focused news site Sixth Tone’s full Twitter thread, which was originally intended to be published as an article, but, according to Paulk, was dropped after pressure from Bytedance (TikTok and Douyin’s parent company).
  • More proof that TikTok stars are going to be very, very rich and very, very famous soon: Taylor Lorenz talked to a bunch of agents at Hollywood’s top talent firms, all of whom confirmed that TikTok is where the industry is looking to source for its next big stars. Says Greg Goodfried, co-head of digital talent at UTA, “It used to be, I want to get famous on YouTube or Vine so I can have a career in traditional entertainment. Now, this is a career.”
  • The “quarantine cutie” story that I previously wrote about my suspicions of wasn’t exactly as serendipitous as it seemed. Medium’s OneZero spoke to creator Jeremy Cohen, who admitted that the video was somewhat staged; he had a friend on said cutie’s roof the entire time who helped with the production. Love remains dead!

Meme watch

All the popular kids on TikTok are posting their mugshots. The trend started last week, when a bunch of makeup artists and influencers on the app filmed themselves applying smudged or fake-tear-soaked mascara and fake blood and then posted the results to Instagram. The #mugshotchallenge isn’t about posting your actual mugshot: It’s what your mugshot might look like if you happened to look very cute while getting in a lot of trouble.

No, it’s certainly not great that a bunch of mostly white and largely privileged kids are pretending they’ve been beaten up and arrested, because they’re statistically the least likely people for that to happen to. (Also because mugshots don’t actually look like this.) There’s a lot of cultural weirdness happening here, but because we’re talking about mostly minors, I’m going to give them the benefit of probable ignorance.

What I really think is happening is that extreme makeup transformations are all over TikTok right now, and challenges like these are a way to participate in a meme while by yourself, and one that in the Before Times you may not have had time for. The decades challenge, where you dress up like someone from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s? That’s a several-hour project! There are worse ways to spend an afternoon in quarantine. Just don’t do the mugshot thing.

One Last Thing

Remember bars? I miss bars. Watch this video of a disinterested hot girl taking your order and relive the good old days.


brought to you by my 16th day home alone! its tequila and oat milk enjoy #fyp #foryou #distancedance #learningtodog #quarantine #alonelife

♬ Roses - Imanbek Remix - SAINt JHN

lease consider making a contribution to Vox today.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.