It’s the app you never expected to get big. It’s the app you definitely made fun of your friends for having, before you shamelessly caved and downloaded it yourself (or maybe you were the friend who ALWAYS had it). Regardless, TikTok has become the blackhole for mindless, unending entertainment. In covid times (sorry, dollar in the Covid-Swear Jar), it’s the perfect connection between you, your boredom, and the rest of the entire world. In some way or another — especially if you’re not from Gen Z — I can’t doubt this app has created a sense of FOMO in you. But nonetheless, TikTok has produced some insane transformations in the world of social media.
For one, celebrities and celebrity-made content is not prioritised. The videos that go viral are completely unpredictable, but generally speaking, it’s the previously labelled ‘consumers’ of content who are more often than not the TikTok creators of content. For another, the virality of videos is completely mysterious. Don’t count me as a scientific source, but my own working theory is that there’s just something about these videos that always makes them go viral. I don’t know what that something is, but I’m also not a scientist. Anyone can ‘go viral’ is my point. This level of exposure is not just limited to celebrities and thus the public forum is more broadly shared.
Okay, okay, let me get to what I’m actually gonna talk about. TikTok has done a lot of things that previous social media haven’t grasped as effectively. And I’ve found, with research, that a lot of this occurs at the intersection of TikTok and what I call an ‘endless stream of information’. To make matters simpler, I’ve identified three of the big cultural facets of this topic and I’m going to explore them a little more closely.
I’m sure you know what it is, because I’m sure you’ve seen it before. The act of ‘cancelling’ someone for any number of reasons, but moreover doing it in such a large community on such a widespread platform. It is a mind-blowing power play. It reflects plainly the shift of power from the ‘elite’ (those with public platforms) to the people, who with apps like TikTok, can grasp at a platform long enough to shout their views into an echo chamber that’ll never stop whispering them back. I won’t go into the pros and cons of cancel culture here (very important content for a different article), but I will speak to the way that cancel culture has revolutionised this power dynamic. I mean, there has never been a time before when people could band together so quickly, so resolutely, and with so much unfiltered information to create genuine impacts like this. I picture it kind of like the internet-era version of a whole town marching down the main street with pitchforks and torches, banding together in the masses to stand for what’s ‘right’. Although, instead of that, picture it happening like thousands of times, and simultaneously, and continuously, forever. TikTok has become a stage for this like never before. It’s the perfect public forum to share views like these, and to find others who agree with your views on such topics. If you’ve ever heard that prompt ‘what would you say if you could say one thing to the entire world?’. That’s basically what TikTok is. Any person with the app has the chance to say whatever they want, to any audience who may come across it, and the criteria for going viral has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of what has been said.
This one is interesting. And I’d say (although I cannot conclusively and singularly confirm) that ‘sleuth culture’ has evolved quite significantly on TikTok. It’s not something I imagine would have been foretold as an effect of social media, but it’s a cultural phenomenon which I think is very prominent. The collective ability that the TikTok community has to collate information, and build ideas together to form some mass understanding of something is bizarre. That might sound a little vague, so I’ll give you an example. Remember ‘Couch Guy’ TikTok? For a few weeks there, he was a huge deal. What began as a seemingly harmless video about a girl coming back from college to see her boyfriend, transformed into one of the biggest conspiracies of the year. I’m talking rabid comment section analysis, to serious frame-by-frame analysis videos, to entertainment-purpose parodies, to professional commentary of body language and facial expressions. It didn’t even stop there. Y’all people showed up at this guy’s HOUSE. People ended up ripping through the private lives of anyone in or linked to the video. Names, contact info and addresses were found, and leaked. People felt the urge to know more about this guy and this situation. This is an example I find so insane. I think it highlights just how much our generation is accustomed to having all possible information about a topic, and when that information is denied, we seek it for ourselves.
This is a question with no one answer. There are so many trends on TikTok that out-of-the-loop journalists try to write articles summarising them every week. There are so many that I tried to make a list myself, and ended up wasting more paper than I used. Aside from many other things, what’s trending for me might not have even come across your For You Page. Maybe you also saw the ‘Bones or No Bones Day’ videos. Maybe you also watched every single one of those ‘I AM WOMAN’ photo compilations. Maybe you followed that ‘I understood the assignment’ sound, and all the subsequent variations of it. Maybe I’m literally just quoting my own For You Page from a month ago. Who knows. My point is, you can spend literal hours every day on this clock app (like I do), and still feel intuitively like you’ve missed something. And of course, you’ll be kind of right. For every TikTok you do watch, there’s a million you don’t. There’s no other app, even social media app, that makes that seem important. But on TikTok, it is. There’s a lot to be said about it too, but I’ll just make one note: your experience on this app is completely different to everyone else’s. Don’t bother fearing that you’re missing out, you are. But missing out on what exactly? Is it really as important as you might think? Go and have a chat with someone you know who has never even once used TikTok. Ask yourself, what are they missing out on? Maybe they can’t finish the line ‘Oh no! Our table! …’ but maybe that has absolutely no effect on their life.
Here is where I finally draw together the point of all this, the concept buried under a million other concepts; the problem of information. Simply put, there is too much of it. Maybe too much is the wrong word, maybe I mean a fuck tonne. Like infinite information and sources for everything we wish to learn about. But as much as these sources create the ability for independent research, they also complicate matters by becoming difficult to filter. Misinformation, in the new age of Web 2.0, is not simply a propaganda tool used by the government for whatever political interest they have, but it’s used by one another for our own interests, and furthermore sometimes it’s just unintentional, misleading, not well-written, not fact-checked, true at one point and not at another, or any other combination of not wholly accurate. And it is this problem which renders the age of endless information as almost completely useless as whatever we had before.