Five months ago, right before the COVID-19 pandemic took over all of our lives, I got a FaceTime call from my friend Matthew at two in the morning. “Julia, I think my video is going viral. It just keeps getting more likes and comments!”
I sneered him off. Everyone always thought they were going “viral” on TikTok. Flash forward five months: that video has 1.7 million likes, 10 million views, 20k comments, 99.2k shares, and he has upwards of 800k followers. This app has completely transformed his life, goals and future prospects, and it’s helped him find his home and platform online. He now makes and publishes videos daily, and he’s amassed a total of 21.8 million likes. Through all of this, however, I have witnessed his happiness and excitement become completely dependent on how many followers he gained on that day and how many likes and views his most recent video got. I’ve seen a single hate comment shatter his week.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with the app, and I think that’s the way Tiktok likes it.
My mom used to tell me, everything in moderation, but I don’t think that’s the way the app operates. Everyone can get addicted, and trust me, if you download the app and make an account, you will get addicted. I don’t use this term lightly. When I check my phone in the morning, it’s the first app I open up. When I check my phone after doing work, it’s the first app I open up. If I’m in a Zoom meeting when my phone is on silent and I can’t listen to anything, just by muscle memory, it’s the first app I open up. And nearly every single one of my friends says the same thing, too. In fact, in 2018, before TikTok’s popularity skyrocketed, App Ape Lab published a report that its “daily activation rate” (how many times the app is opened per day) is, on average, between 38-55 times. Twitter’s is 15. As of the end of 2019, it is the second most downloaded application from the App Store and Google Play store according to Sensor Tower.
However, these statistics don’t prove that TikTok is an inherently malicious app. In fact, I don’t even believe that. The way the app can quite literally make people go viral overnight and change their entire lives in one day is unique and phenomenal. For example, just from his video blowing up, @officialgodbodycash was able to raise $100,000 for his father’s life-saving open heart surgery, and is currently raising more for his recovery. That’s just one of the thousands of examples of the TikTok phenomenon of overnight “virality” being used for good. So, this app needs to be used with caution. Left unchecked, its addictive nature and quick success features can lead someone, or hundreds of thousands of someones down the wrong path.
The side of this app devoted to politics is completely indicative of this. Encompassing a large part of this app, ”political TikTok” can sway the mind of millions of users. According to App Ape Lab, around 40 percent of the app is in their teen years or younger, and brain development is still happening. Since much of the content on the app is presented as digestible jokes or quick facts, kids can easily learn about politics and explore their own opinions. It sounds ideal, right? Yeah… not so much.
Consider this scenario: a 13-year old, growing up in possibly one of the most divisive political climates in history, comes across a video from a self-proclaimed “ancom” (anarchist-communist). This video encourages a radical social revolution, lack of participation of society and violence towards everyone without the same opinions, but its ideologies are all presented with flashing colors and catchy music playing in the background. Having their senses stimulated, the teen likes the video and the TikTok algorithm does its thing! Soon, they’re seeing eight or nine or 10 videos in a row from similar creators encouraging more and more radical ideas. This example was not to say that more radical ideas are bad or should not be embraced, but with limited knowledge of civics, world history and government in general, kids and young adults alike can easily become attracted to ideas when presented through logical fallacies and comprehensible, funny jokes. TikTok has placed this child in an echo chamber of limited facts and badly thought out arguments, disguised in flashy filters and stimulating music.
Funny thing is, the argument just presented reads a bit like a TikTok video. I used a version of the truth to try and scare both kids and parents away from the app. Let me say that there are definitely upsides to exposure to politics on TikTok: kids can get away from their parents’ own echo chamber, interact with people on all sides of the political spectrum and even learn pure facts about our government system. Really, everything on the app can be used for both good and bad.
Yes, that same argument can be made for each social media app, but nowhere does it show up as noticeably as on TikTok. So, next time you click on that friendly, coaxing music note icon, consider putting away your phone and remember my mom’s voice in your head: “everything in moderation”.