In 2019, I made the choice to download the up-and-coming app TikTok. Like its antecedent Musical.ly, I assumed TikTok would be another entertaining pastime that would provide a creative outlet and area to explore a new online community. And for a time, that is exactly what it was. 2019 was a year I consider to be the ‘calm before the storm’. Filled with new friends, experiences, travels, it was the ideal time for an app like TikTok to emerge. In school, I would learn silly dances with my friends and it brought us closer. I was exposed to creators like Jeremy Scheck who taught me dazzling recipes, and people like Lexi Hidalgo who vlogs her daily life, making me crave to romanticize my own. As 2020 struck and lockdown ensued, TikTok only took on greater popularity. It was a way to live a life outside your own while also connecting with others who hold similar interests all over the globe. Slowly but surely, the scope of what was being presented to consumers morphed. The videos my dad watched focused on political propaganda, and I noticed how things shown to me were no longer light and lucid. The short duration of each video coupled with the custom-tailored ‘For You Page’ makes TikTok appear to be the flawless app for teenagers, but as the hours I spent on it crept up, I discerned that this platform may not be as virtuous as it first seemed.
In all honestly, I knew for quite a while that TikTok was not a healthy place to spend time. Nonetheless, because it was such an integral part of my daily routine, I became almost fearful of letting it go. All my friends were on TikTok. In my generation, it was not merely a widespread point of interest but actually has become a culture in itself. The drama of TikTok is known and avidly followed by most; every dance, every trend, every scandal is pursued and discussed as if it were the headlines of the Wall Street Journal. Teens, including myself, became so engrossed in the minutiae of TikTok that they started to ignore, or worse –misrepresent, larger, more impactful issues happening right before their eyes. One singular stream of media has had the most massive negative impact on members of my generation. This is not to say that other social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook are totally wholesome. Yet somehow, the introduction of an app like TikTok to a group of young individuals struggling to maintain themselves in a world turned upside down formed a recipe for disaster.
Despite all this, the problems I saw TikTok creating in society were not enough to convince me to get rid of the app for good. After all, I reasoned, my boycotting of the app is not going to solve anything. It would have to take a mass epiphany to make real change. Then, one may question… what finally pushed me to hit the delete button?
The infestation of the algorithm. It may sound like something out of a horror movie, but when I dove deep into the root of the app — how it keeps you coming back for more, scrolling for hours– it all came down to the toxic method. TikTok functions on a highly specialized algorithm that provides a stream of recommended videos based on the subjects a user interacts with most. The idea of it provides sound reasoning: a user would obviously want to see more of the things they like. The problem with that is… young, impressionable viewers do not always know what they like, and even when they do, TikTok capitalizes on their entrenched insecurities and existing mental health issues. The algorithm means that one cannot escape the topics they want to see, but maybe should not be seeing.
During the two and a half years I spent on TikTok, unawarely scrolling for hours daily, I was exposed to content promoting self-harm, suicide, disordered behaviors, bullying, sexual predation, illegal substances, and dangerous trends. Being strong-headed, it was easy to assume that none of this affects me, that I could scroll past to another dance or fashion video. Realistically though, this cyclical content begins to grow until it’s all you see and its effects become more apparent. I deleted TikTok because before I could stop it, I found myself watching a video of what someone else ‘eats in a day’ at 1 AM instead of being asleep. I was walking to class and scrolling through videos of Addison Rae dancing with Bryce Hall and reading the flock of messages coming from angry teens with a fire in their belly for the wrong subjects. To be totally transparent, I could not even brush my teeth without watching a “that girl morning routine” and feeling distressed about my own.
TikTok truly became a toxic place that at some point, I could not handle anymore. At this point, I understand that it does not make me lame or ‘out of the loop’ for deleting the application. While it could just be my detachment from the infatuation, I find myself hearing less discussion about what’s going on inside the virtual world of 30-second videos. To each their own, but for me, it was the correct choice. I now find myself focusing on my own life and self-development instead of strangers on the internet. I have time to read and journal before bed, and can finally bring myself to turn off my phone at the end of the night. When I go on social media, I am able to control the content I engage with, creating a safe environment from which I can grow through online communities that uplift me. In the long run, if anyone is considering deleting TikTok (or another social media platform) but is scared of losing connection with a disconnected generation, I would say to go for it. It takes courage to go against the general public, but it is this courage which will remove you from situations dangerous to your mental health and personal wellbeing. The internet is a powerful place, and with great power comes great responsibility.
Happy Living xx
“In a social media world, the danger is being overexposed and when something is overexposed it is no longer interesting… if it ever was” -Donna Lynn Hope