June 2022

Can You Record A Video For Me?

An Opinions Piece On What TikTok’s Biggest Prank Says About Its Algorithm

Handing your phone to a stranger, unlocked, is one of the worst places to keep it, however, if you’re recording a video at the same time, what are they going to do? They’re on tape. The knowledge of this physical documentation in their hands puts structure on the situation that when you ask them to record a quick video for you, no matter the purpose, it becomes both necessary and simple to do; all they have to do is point it at you. Prank videos like these started popping up all over TikTok beginning in late 2021. At one point, it seemed every time I scrolled through my “For You” page, one of these videos popped up.

The first video was a guy named Andrew, or @chairblind, who handed his phone to a grandma in a mall, asking her to record him for his mom. He pretended he had run away from home and she believed him, really being sincere about it and asking him if he needed help.

Andrew targeted unknowing people in Targets and Walmarts in his hometown, approaching them with kindness and finding an excuse to film him. The high school-age prankster, dressed like a typical track kid in Nike shorts and slides, started a trend that became much bigger than him. The ease of the stunt’s execution mixed with the consistently wholesome outcomes always seemed to produce content that made people want to see more.

With prank videos, wholesomeness is not common. It’s always passed off as wholesome but the need for the victim to “take the joke” is necessary swallowing. Both parties are vulnerable in this prank but the prankster is much more so; they’re the ones on camera.

As more and more creators started recreating this prank, it evolved into many iterations. Just like how a tweet is limited by character count, this prank is limited by its format. The limitation made the arc of its creativity surprisingly vast.

By mid-2022, there seemed to be so many of these videos on TikTok. In June, it’s shocking to see new subversions being posted and still going viral. The other day, a version emerged of a girl handing her phone to a stranger on a subway platform. They had a weird voice and were most likely her friend, posing as an odd-voiced stranger, too enthusiastic about what she was singing. This subversion, being so recent, now has the potential to be replicated going forward, so just when the trend appears to be dead, it still has life left.

All memes die but there’s something about this prank that’s given it an extended lifespan. Although the build-up was slow, in the past month or so, this prank is everywhere on the app. For something that seems so difficult for an algorithm to identify, this “For You” page recurrence is rather odd. When I started seeing them all over my feed, I made the conscious effort to scroll as fast as I could when I heard someone start saying, “Can you record this video for me-”

I remember I added the prank to Know Your Meme as an entry in early January 2022. At that time, it was only three creators doing it including Chairblind. The first creator to make a copycat was a TikToker named @gucci_pinepple. When he posted the video, he tagged Chairblind in the description. In the next one, he wrote #chairblind to identify it. However, going forward, he and other creators stopped doing this. The format became bigger than Chairblind himself.

In fact, most of the early “Can you record a video for me” TikToks had no descriptions whatsoever. If there was one written, it was usually just a small sentence like, “Got him 😂,” or something else non-specific. Only in mid-April did creators start calling their videos “Can you record this for me,” alluding to a searchability deficit that forward-thinking influencers started to exploit.

Thinking back to my January “Know Your Meme” entry on the trend, which predated its March 2022 climax, the entry now has barely over 1,000 views which seems crazy given how popular it seems to be. Maybe it’s because I called it, “Can You Record This Video For Me?” instead of “Can You Record This For Me,” but still, I think it should have found more people. Without a clear descriptor that not even Google searches can identify, how is TikTok recommending these pranks videos en masse, when early on, there were no correlating descriptions or sounds associated with them?

It’s known that the TikTok algorithm is based on engagement time and type, using sounds, followers and written descriptions, among other factors, it highlights certain content patterns. How is it identifying these pranks though, even when you don’t leave a comment or press like?

As far as what’s written about the TikTok algorithm, it isn’t known how it uses the creator’s spoken sentences to its advantage but when a trend like this, with a definitive opening question and no other palpable identifiers, starts to be recommended over and over, it alludes to the algorithm exploiting what we’re saying. Of course, TikTok can generate subtitles on any video but when a prank like this becomes part of the algorithm’s knowledge, it’s evident that our spoken word has been integrated into the algorithmic functions.

I still can’t believe my Know Your Meme entry got no views though. I guess no one was searching for it. Maybe it’s just not as big a trend as I’m inclined to feel. Everyone’s “For You” pages are different. All I know is that at one point, that app thought it was the only content that I wanted to watch. I had to start manually telling it that I wasn’t interested. All those videos started to feel unoriginal, overdone.

My opinion has changed though. I like the trend. My opinion usually changes when a meme lasts longer than I expect. I enjoy seeing the new subversions because it reminds how much I liked Chairblind’s initial videos. They just got the funniest reactions out of people off such a simple premise. And now that I’ve seen it evolve over time, I know the ultimate pull for me is what it says about how the algorithm and how it tracks the spoken word. TikTok just gets creepier and creepier every, single day and I love to see it squirm.

click here to read this article in the June 2022 Meme Insider issue.