TikTok is rapidly on the rise in the social media and content creation world, and I have my qualms with it.
I would like to preface this with the few things I have to say in defense of TikTok. The app makes content creation easier than ever with built-in editing tools for text, effects, and backgrounds. It also helps tons of deserving artists and creators get their hard work seen by thousands really fast. There are definitely a few creators I love and support whose main audience is TikTok.
While TikTok is the main platform for many worthy, kind, and talented human beings, its growing dominance in social media doesn’t sit right with me. The app has some redeeming qualities but they are overshadowed by the toxic culture that has formed around it. Millions of kids across the US are becoming a part of this culture, and I don’t think it is a safe space for the youth at all.
A major part of TikTok culture is the mean-spiritedness of users’ humor. The app features a “For You” page that allows the user to scroll through an endless stream of videos curated for them by an algorithm. It usually shows you videos that are getting a lot of likes and comments at the present moment.
When I scroll through, I am VERY OFTEN shown videos of young children doing something awkward or cringeworthy (because they’re children and who can blame them?) with thousands of views. I can recall one I saw recently of a young girl singing a song from Frozen pretty badly. Thousands of likes and views. The comment section is full of users bullying this child. Mean-spirited jokes at the young girl’s expense. Some even calling her fat or ugly. Plenty of them were evidently grown ass teenagers and adults, who should know better.
I feel nauseous every time I see something like this. TikTok allows this type of bullying to slide and even gives it exposure to thousands of people through its algorithm. The app could easily follow the footsteps of YouTube and disable comments on videos made by and for children. At the very least, it could stop promoting children’s videos that are trending because of cruel comments. But TikTok has made it pretty clear time and time again that it will allow anything to slide as long as content on the app is consistently getting a lot of buzz.
This is another issue TikTok should be able to monitor and stop before it spreads. But they don’t.
Trends that blow up on TikTok often involve showing off your body in a sexual way, and this is massively problematic when millions of its users are young children and minors. I’ve seen so many underage girls participating in one particular trend where you show off a small waist and a “big bank”. And this stuff is just allowed to spread, and TikTok consistently fails to do something. I am barely on TikTok so I’m sure there are other sexualizing trends minors participate in without any moderation from the app. The fact that there’s even one big trend like this that children are participating in tells me enough.
This could be mitigated if TikTok categorized certain videos as 18+ and only viewable by adults. It wouldn’t stop every minor from seeing adult content but at least they would be attempting something.
Body Image and Self Image
In the same vein as sexual TikTok trends, there are tons of trends that are potentially harmful to young people’s body image.
Trends that involve girls boasting their tiny waist size are reminiscent of #thinspo and #thinspirtation posts that were popular on websites like Tumblr in the 2010s. Other trends show off how conventionally pretty (Eurocentric and/or symmetrical) a person’s face is.
I can’t believe these trends are still spreading like virtual wildfire in the year 2021. When I was in middle school I was mainly on Tumblr and Instagram, and at the time these communities were starting to become really body-positive. The increase in body positivity online definitely helped me to become accepting of my own image. I imagine TikTok, in promoting trends and videos made by skinny attractive white people, is doing the opposite to kids.
This may be only the tip of my iceberg of complaints about the ever-growing TikTok, but these concerns are definitely the ones I think are most dangerous. As an app with such a VAST reach all over the world, TikTok has a responsibility to do better. Kids and teens (the majority of TikTok’s user base) are WAY too young to be insecure about their body, bullied about their looks, or bashed mercilessly for singing a little song. These are all issues that CAN be alleviated if TikTok only tried. RIP Vine.