When lockdown went into effect earlier this year, many people turned to TikTok to pass the time.
Like, a lot of people: the short-video platform has now hit over 2.6 billion downloads globally and was the most downloaded app of 2020, according to mobile app analytics firm App Annie.
The pandemic is part of the reason for surging TikTok popularity.
"It's been a bleak year for many people. Much of the content you see on TikTok is fun, upbeat and a welcome break from the day-to-day realities of the COVID crisis," says Damian Radcliffe, a professor at the University of Oregon who researches digital trends.
So what's distracting people from what Radcliffe calls "the doom and gloom" of 2020?
Actually, you'd be surprised at the viral TikToks of the year. How to ... get dirt out from under your fingernails, for one. Here are some of our favorite TikTok moments of 2020 from the year's most popular videos.
Ghen Cô Vy (Vietnam)
In February, a pop song-turned-PSA in Vietnam quickly became a TikTok sensation. The 2017 hit breakup song "Ghen" by Min and Erik received a lyrical makeover from the Ministry of Health to send a message about COVID-19 safety precautions. Newly titled "Ghen Cô Vy," the song inspired a dance from choreographer Quang Đăng about how to thoroughly wash your hands — around the thumbs, under your fingernails, between the fingers. People then started filming themselves doing the dance on TikTok for the #ghencovychallenge, which has surpassed 41 million hashtag views.
Museo de Filipino (The Philippines)
"We can fight corruption. I have shown it!" — that's how one of the most popular #MuseodeFilipino videos kicks off. It's about the legacy of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who is known for holding public officials accountable. In this trend, users dress up as significant human rights defenders and activists in the Philippines and turn an "on" switch to share notable information about that person's life. The point-of-view style videos have become popular with young users who wish to educate their generation about trailblazers in their country.
Jerusalema Challenge (South Africa)
In late 2019, South African producer Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode released "Jerusalema," an upbeat Zulu song about seeking salvation in the city of Jerusalem. As the pandemic wore on in the spring and people tried to manage the fear and anxiety surrounding the virus, a video of a group of friends in Angola joyfully dancing to the song inspired millions of people across Africa and the rest of the world to do the same.
On South Africa's Heritage Day holiday in September, President Cyril Ramaphosa praised the #JerusalemaChallenge for helping raise people's spirits during a time of crisis and encouraged everyone to try it out. Over 382 million people have viewed the hashtag on TikTok.
Madiba Jive Challenge (South Africa)
And there's another popular dance trend from South Africa, this time to commemorate the late Nelson Mandela. The #MadibaJiveChallenge, started in South Africa, features users from around the world emulating Mandela's dance moves — which he was famously photographed doing throughout his life — on what would've been his 102nd birthday on July 18. The modern take on Mandela's "Madiba Dance," named after his clan name Madiba, has racked up over 8.7 million hashtag views on TikTok.
Mat kar forward (India)
With TikTok's growing popularity, digital researcher Damian Radcliffe says one of the biggest issues the app is facing globally is the spread of misinformation on its platform. "We've already seen the app – like many other platforms – rife with conspiracy theories, misinformation around elections and misinformation related to the COVID vaccine and the wider health crisis," he explains.
In India, TikTok launched a campaign called #MatKarForward to tackle the issue of misinformation. The hashtag, which has received over 3.7 billion views, encourages users to stop and think before forwarding videos that promote fake news, such as COVID-19 "homemade" remedies and various conspiracies. The initial PSA stars cricket player Virat Kohli as well as famous actors Sara Ali Khan, Ayushmann Khurrana and Kriti Sanon.
A Stand Against Gender-Based Discrimination (Egypt)
In May, Egyptian teenager Aya Khamees made a now-deleted TikTok demanding justice after she says she was sexually assaulted at a party. The viral video resulted in her arrest for prostitution, drug use and violating "family values." The latter charge is part of a larger crackdown of the Egyptian government against female influencers on TikTok for posting videos wearing clothes or participating in dances that are deemed inappropriate by a cybercrime law that targets any online "violation of public morals."
Although the state eventually dropped the charges against Aya Khamees, other TikTokers – like Haneen Hossam, whose video is embedded above — have faced arrests, hefty fines and even jail sentences for their content. The Tahrir Institute for Middle Eastern Policy reports that a group of women have since launched an online petition and campaign with the hashtag "with permission from the Egyptian family," to advocate for the release of the TikTok users and call out what they say is the government's criminalization of women's free expression online.
Frozen Life in Tibet
In the icy Himalayas, user kebi057 on TikTok shows people around the world about everyday life in Tibet. "Pay attention to me to understand what my life is like," his bio reads. And people are definitely taking a look. He has over 236,000 followers and nearly 4 million likes for his videos — clips of himself pulling his sled with his dog, preparing food and, in his most popular video, building a "natural refrigerator" out of ice blocks over several days — to the amazement of people in the comments, who marveled at his literal ice box.