TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular social media networks on the planet with more than 800 million active users on the strength of its short videos—of no more than 60 seconds—which prize creativity and quick wit. WTTDOTM, an artist whose real name is Morry Kolman, figured out a way to get around this limit and uploaded a full-length 71 minute long movie on Wednesday.
On Friday, TikTok took down one version of the video, saying it violated TikTok's community guidelines. But WTTDOTM posted two different versions of the same video to TikTok, one is still up and it also lives on as a tweet.
WTTDOTM explained how he got around TikTok's video limitation in a blog post that he published on Wednesday. Inspired by other TikTok users who figured out how to trick TikTok into accepting longer videos, WTTDOTM wanted to see if he could upload a whole movie to the site.
As it turns out, TikTok doesn't really check how long videos are, but trusts the video file's metadata that says how long the video is. That means that a user can manipulate their video file's metadata to say it lasts less than 60 seconds even if it's a 71 minute long video.
"Basically, it's a movie in TikTok clothing," WTTDOTM told Motherboard in an online chat.
Thanks to this trick, WTTDOTM was able to upload the 1960 movie The Little Shop of Horrors, which is now in the public domain, to his TikTok account. For WTTDOTM, this wasn't just an exercise in how to get around tech limits. WTTDOTM realized that he was able to upload the movie because, in practice, TikTok literally doesn't watch the videos that are uploaded to its platform.
"Because TikTok’s vetting process understands the video as a file and not a film, it assumes that when it gets a new piece of content—even though a human uploaded it—it is receiving the work of another machine. As such, it does not bother actually watching any length of the video, because 'watching' is a foreign concept to the parties it understands to be involved," WTTDOTM wrote in his blog. "The Little Tok of Horrors will remain up as long as there is no human intervention on the part of an employee as a testament to the fact that TikTok’s platform does not have the sensory ability to even comprehend that it is there. Uber owns no cars, Facebook has no newsroom, TikTok watches no videos."
After Motherboard asked for comment on Thursday, TikTok said that "modifying or adapting code on our platform violates our Community Guidelines, which are designed to promote an authentic and reliable experience for everyone on TikTok.”
"A human had to tell a machine I was lying. It’s good to know we still have that power."
The company took down one of the videos on Friday. (Both versions were essentially the same video.)
WTTDOTM said he did not get any notification from TikTok about the takedown, and he was surprised that the company only took down one.
"I think the arbitrariness of this move in relation to other videos that break the rule proves the general point of the project. The markers of automatic video management are nowhere to be seen here. No notification, no wave of similar actions, etc," he said.
There's several videos on TikTok that are longer than 60 seconds, most of them listed with the hashtag #longerthanaminute, but WTTDOTM believes this may be the longest, and the first feature length movie on the platform.
"The idea was to take the method and use it to do more than just make longform TikTok content," WTTDOTM told me. "I wanted to make TikTok host a type of video its platform is explicitly positioned against."
TikTok's takedown, according to him, proved the point that his project was trying to make.
"The only way this video would be taken down is with human intervention, and that is clearly what happened. It just goes to prove the point that the way platforms process and distribute videos is disconnected from the way humans see and interact with them, and that - at least in my eyes - helps open some ground for platform resistance and artistic intervention," he said. "Put more succinctly: a human had to tell a machine I was lying. It’s good to know we still have that power."