Skip to main content

Social Media Pop Cultures

Colourful poster for TikTok event with animated images of people

The Social Media Pop Cultures Programme is CCAT’s newest node, dedicated to critically assessing the history, function, and design of popular culture in social media spaces and pop culture vernacular native to social media, and to scrutinize academic approaches to the phenomenon, paying special attention to digital media in the Asia Pacific region.

This Programme focuses on (1) how popular culture theories, logics, structures, and industries have mapped onto social media spaces; (2) how the ubiquity of social media sensibilities, systems, practices, and trends have impacted pop cultures around the world; (3) as well as how social media pop culture artefacts (such as memes, folklore, chain mail, viral videos, internet celebrities, and influencers), and in various formats (such as texts, images, gifs, and videos) allow for a layer of plausible deniability wherein users can disperse and dispel organised efforts as mere entertainment or humour, in an act of subversive frivolity.

This Programme is also the home of the TikTok Cultures Research Network (, a portal for scholarly resources, research projects, and events that connects networks of qualitative scholars of various disciplines from around the world. TCRN was founded by A/Prof Abidin in October 2020, and is supported by a consulting panel of APAC-based Founding Members and international Key Regional Members.

Program Leader

Professor Crystal Abidin, Principal Research Fellow & ARC DECRA Fellow, Internet Studies, MCASI


Dr. Jin Lee, Research Fellow, MCASI

Dr. D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye, Adjunct Research Fellow, MCASI

Ms. Poh Yu Ting


TikTok Syllabus Report, Forthcoming 2021

TikTok and Social Movements Special Issue, Forthcoming 2022

TikTok Methodologies Special Issue, Forthcoming 2022

Cultures of TikTok in the Asia Pacific, Forthcoming 2022

Recent Publications

Abidin, Crystal, and D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye. 2021. “Audio memes, Earworms, and Templatability: The ‘aural turn’ of memes on TikTok.” Pp. 58-68 in Critical Meme Reader: Global Mutations of the Viral Image, edited by Chloë Arkenbout, Jack Wilson, and Daniel de Zeeuw. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures. <Chapter in Book>

Abidin, Crystal. 2021. “Singaporean Influencers and COVID-19 on Instagram Stories.” Celebrity Studies (Online first). DOI: 10.1080/19392397.2021.1967604 <Journal article>

Abidin, Crystal, and Jing Zeng. 2021. “‘OK Boomer’: how a TikTok meme traces the rise of Gen Z political consciousness.” The Conversation, 20 August <Op-ed>

Zeng, Jing, and Crystal Abidin. 2021. “#OkBoomer, time to meet the Zoomers’: Studying the Memefication of Intergenerational Politics on TikTok.” Information, Communication and Society (Online first). DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2021.1961007 <Journal article>

Abidin, Crystal, and Jing Zeng. 2021. “Subtle Asian Traits and COVID-19: Congregating and Commiserating as East Asians in a Facebook Group.” First Monday 26(6). DOI: 10.5210/fm.v26i7.10859 <Journal article>

Harlig, Alexandra, Crystal Abidin, Trevor Boffone, Kelly Bowker, Colette Eloi, Pamela Krayenbuhl, Chuyun Oh. 2021. “TikTok and Short-Form Screendance Before and After Covid.” The International Journal of Screendance 12 (2021). DOI: 10.18061/ijsd.v12i0.8348 <Journal editorial>

Abidin, Crystal. 2021. “Activism in Singapore in the Digital Age: Influencer Cultures, Meme Factories, and Networked Virality.” Pp. 49-55 in Singapore Perspectives: Politics, edited by Natalie Pang, Shamil Zainuddin. Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies. DOI: 10.1142/9789811225734_0008 <Chapter>

Zeng, Jing, Crystal Abidin, and Mike S. Schäfer. (Co-editor). 2021. Research Perspectives on TikTok and Its Legacy Apps: Introduction. International Journal of Communication 15(2021). <Special Issue>

Abidin, Crystal. 2021. “Mapping Internet Celebrity on TikTok: Exploring Attention Economies and Visibility Labours.” Cultural Science Journal 12(1): 77-103. DOI: 10.5334/csci.140 <Journal article>

Savic, Milovan, and Crystal Abidin. 2020. “The Politics and Optics of the TikTok Ban.” Points, Data & Society, 18 September <Editorial>

Abidin, Crystal. 2020. “Pivot to coronavirus: How meme factories are crafting public health messaging.” The Conversation, 28 July. <Editorial>

Abidin, Crystal. 2020. “Meme factory cultures and content pivoting in Singapore and Malaysia during COVID-19.” The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review 1. DOI: 10.37016/mr-2020-031 <Journal article>

Recent Events

Link to TikTok Cultures Research Network website.

TikTok & Children, 8 May 2023.

The TikTok Cultures Research Network held its seventh virtual event, ‘TikTok & Children’ on 8 May 2023. This one-day online symposium was held in collaboration with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child.
In response to the potentials and pitfalls in children’s use of TikTok, this symposium will discuss crucial issues to understanding children’s rights on TikTok and to examine their wellbeing and safety on the platform. The symposium will showcase the emergent research on characteristics, climate, concerns, and chances of children growing up with and on TikTok, and discuss these issues with the industry and TikTok studies scholars.

TikTok & Asian Diaspora Online Roundtable, Monday 17 October 2022.

With the increasing popularity of the platform, TikTok has been considered a place for people in marginalized communities, like Asian diasporas around the world, to talk about their life struggles, raise their voices against racial discrimination often instigated by situations like COVID-19, and obtain visibility in media culture. This half-day online-only Roundtable will feature three sessions where TikTokers, community and industry professionals, and scholars discuss the past, the present, and the future of Asian diasporas and TikTok cultures.

TikTok and Social Movements, 20 September 2021.

The TikTok Cultures Research Network held its fourth virtual event TikTok and Social Movements on 20 September 2021 organised by founding members Dr Jin Lee, Associate Professor Crystal Abidin, and Dr D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye. The event was a half-day online Symposium (on Zoom) to showcase emergent research on the potentials, promises, pitfalls, and parameters of such social movements on TikTok. The event featured a keynote delivered by Dr Ariadna Matamoros-Fernández (Queensland University of Technology).

TikTok Methodologies, 19 July 2021.

The TikTok Cultures Research Network held its third virtual event TikTok Methodologies on 19 July 2021 hosted by founding members Associate Professor Crystal Abidin, Professor Patrik Wikström, and Dr D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye. The field of digital media research is rapidly expanding to include innovative and exciting TikTok research. As one of the most widely used digital short video platforms around the world, TikTok is a key social arena to study global youth culture, creativity, professionalization, and activism. This event was a critical forum for discussion on TikTok research frameworks and methodologies from emerging voices in the field. This two-hour virtual event took place via Zoom and featured two panel discussions with a diverse array of TikTok researchers. 

TikTok & Youth Cultures in the Age of COVID-19, 29 March 2021.

The TikTok Cultures Research Network held its second virtual event TikTok & Youth Cultures in the Age of COVID-19 on 29 March 2021 hosted by founding members Associate Professor Crystal Abidin, Dr D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye, and Dr Andy Zhao. TikTok has become one of the most widely used short video platforms around the world, with millions of new users joining during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. The platform is now a key social arena for global youth culture, creativity, professionalization, and activism. This event is an open forum for discussions on how digital cultures are evolving in the wave of a global pandemic and the massive uptake of TikTok by diverse groups of people during this time.This two-hour virtual event featured one research presentation and two panel discussions with a diverse array of panellists including TikTok influencers, media industry professionals, and academics. 

Cultures of TikTok in the Asia Pacific, 7 December 2020.

A/Prof Crystal Abidin, Prof Michael Keane, and the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University hosted a virtual symposium on Cultures of TikTok in the Asia Pacific in December 2020. This event was a critical forum for cutting edge research on TikTok, the globally influential short video platform that has captivated international attention and made headlines over the past two years. In particular, this event focused on the cultures of TikTok (including but not limited to the platform, players, and politics) throughout the Asia Pacific Region. This half-day virtual symposium took place via Zoom on 7 December 2020 featuring presentations from thirty contributors from around the world and a keynote delivered by Associate Professor Haiqing Yu (RMIT). 


Influencers and Cultures of Social Justice, Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) Grant Success Panel Development Funding (June–December 2021)

Bubble Tea Pilot Project, MCASI Research Budget Allocation (June–December 2021)

TikTok Cultures Research Network Expansion Support, Strategic Research Investment from Faculty of Humanities at Curtin University (May–December 2021)

COVID-19 Messaging and Youth Engagements on TikTok, Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and Wenner-Gren Foundation Rapid-Response Grants on COVID-19 grant (September 2020–February 2021)

Social Media Influencers as Conduits of Knowledge in Australia and Asia, Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), DE190100789 (July 2019–June 2022)