Tiktok: The App “Saving” Pandemic Youth?

Are 800 million young users per day slowly paving the way to a new economy without knowing it?

Photo by Franck on Unsplash

A Bupa survey in 2021 revealed that parenting teenagers during the pandemic is hard. But it also revealed that a worrying 45% of parents in the survey were struggling to talk to their teenagers regarding their wellbeing and mental health. That being said…two-thirds of the teenagers asked were already struggling with their mental health in the first place, and 34% overall feeling that they struggle to approach their parents with their problems. Feeling the social, emotional and physical impact of a seemingly endless lockdown; teens identify themselves as “powerless” and parents are faced with a startling ineptitude; they’re failing as the back-up battery.

Enter Tik-tok! I believe this to be the tech equivalent of when Phoebe Buffay plays her very morbid but entirely honest “children’s songs”…to children.

As contentious as Friends is to the younger generation; bare with me. This is the more liberal hippie-Friend who brought a coffee house of adults Smelly Cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you and little black curly hair, how’d you wind up there. While in the children’s section of a library she delivered something quite different that those adults, as parents, couldn’t comprehend!

TikTok is still the fastest growing social media network of 2021. And it’s only April! More than this; it’s one of the fastest growing social media networks of all time. It enables users to film and share short-form video content utilising a huge range of features.

Founder and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming, ByteDance reportedly has a private valuation of between $105 billion and $110 billion

Launched in 2017 by ByteDance ; the world’s most valuable start-up, the company absorbed the already highly popular music-focused app Musical.ly in 2018 allowing them to snowball the platform. The comical, lip-sync heavy content style and features translated perfectly. With the onset of the pandemic at the tail end of 2019, Tiktok began to garner upward of 800 million users per day. Over half of these users are under the age of 30 and a massive 32.5% of those are between the aged 10 to 19.

For the sake of sounding like an old woman; this means that the majority of tiktok users were barely alive when VSCO girls first came to light. Reincarnated 90’s high-school students running late for class with the added dash of enlightenment. Reality Shifting is, yes, I’m sorry shifters…meditation that monks have been achieving for thousands of years. It is lucid dreaming that you can achieve during REM. My favourite at the moment is the tik-toker who discovered “voice delay”; for those of the pre-tiktok era, that is ventriloquism or throwing ones voice.

Gracie Scullion said she achieves the lagging effect by first mouthing the first word in an exaggerated way and then adding her own voice only once her mouth is still and closed.

What really caugh my attention was the train-wreck that is “super-straights”. I like to see how many cars pile up before perpetual motion gives way to common sense. “Super Straight” is yet to give up momentum. From it’s unbalanced logo (seriously would it have killed someone to put super on orange and straight on black) to it’s illogical notion that “super” straight is a “sexual orientation”, the whole thing could be attributed to the troll infestation on the internet.

It’s that sort of ignorance that makes the blood of any socio-cultural community boil; percolating with confusion and frustration. Haven’t we had these discussions before? Do we really need to re-educate youths? And, in the bigger picture, exactly how profound is the empathy being fostered in Gen Z if the usage of Nazi imagery is a satirical joke on “the gays”, rather than a warning that you’re heading down a dark path? Funnily enough, some Super Straights are unaware of their humble origins from 4chan where their propeganda stems from trolling ramblings of pseudo-neonazis.

Gen Z has this incredible power at its disposal and it uses it very, very well. The power of remaking the wheel and calling it, well, whatever they want. Trying to define itself as a generation in a world where innovation is replicating something old and putting it in hotpants and giving it a smart phone (looking at you here Marvel). It must be difficult. And yet, they succeed.

The “super straight” phenomena collects an amalgam of predominantly far right, white-supremacist icons and projects the message that they are only attracted to members of the opposite gender assigned at birth. In the old days, when people identified as trans-gender, naysayers and transphobes would use the favourite “I identify as an apache helicopter”. Using historic hate-symbols has become an ironic protest against a variety of socio-culturally progressive communities from “All Lives Matter” to “Only Women Have Vaginas”.

When you look to Tik-tok you can see how limited the pool of knowledge is; two generations linked by the similarities in their technology fight for superiority and balance.

Dalgona Coffee

Example: TikTok tween who had “clearly never been married” but had read something about someone who said that mothers raised their boys to be the men they never had in their life and then grow jealous of the women that marry their sons. Sound familiar…this was Freud. Sigmund Freud. One of the founders of psychoanalysis? His involvement being one of the only positive impacts he made on the psychological community. Set mental health diagnostics back by about 50 years while blaming mother-to-child relationships. Thanks to Freud we are still trying to prove that homosexuality is not a mental disease to be cured…(which is probably why “super-straight”, and tiktok in general, is having such a profound an impact).

Tiktok, at first glance, could be seen as a distraction from the mundane, merely a method of expression of disenfranchised youth, or the last resort of a disenfranchised parent.

The over complicated process of making something so simple

Another example: Dalgona Coffee. With only 10 minutes of balloon whisking instant coffee with hot water in a bowl, you can spoon it on top of chilled milk to make something that the Greeks have been calling Frape since the 1950s. There are two specific differences though. The first being that apparently splitting a coffee into two separate layers has the same enigmatic impact as splitting the atom. And that a Greek can make you a Frape quicker than one can split the atom. Sugar, coffee, any temperature of water, blitz for 10 seconds, ice, top up with water and or milk: Done. Did I say 10 seconds? You betcha! A 24w turbo frother. Here, have a link on me:

What does it serve? Is this possibly the result of those participation medals that children receive at Sports Day in order to avoid the “trauma” of failing; Everyone’s a winner baby, that’s the truth?! Rewards are more effective than punishment. But awareness is more valuable than a Haribo, or a certificate for breathing, or a like from a faceless peer for establishing a series of dance moves in quick succession to a catchy tune in under a minute. Has challenging young people in an effective way become such a frightening prospect that Tiktok is the only solution?

We shall return now to the lyrical nursery-rhyme stylings of Phoebe Buffay:

There’ll be times when you get older that you’ll want to sleep with people just to make them like you- BUT DON’T…’cause- everybody!

All the children sing: That’s another thing that you don’t wanna do!

This is where the positive influence of Tiktok really shines. As much as it is a perpetual scroll of dance moves and branding, it is also the bridge between two starkly different realities; pre-pandemic and post-pandemic.

Photo by Sandy Manoa on Unsplash

Some jargon for you; Zone of Proximal Development (or ZPD) is the notion that generational gaps in knowledge and understanding can be bridged by the involvement of peer-to-peer learning. And tiktok is the ideal peer; uncensored, losely filtered truth tailored to the individual users interests and perspectives. The algorithm proposes accounts that might be interesting, useful or encouraging to the particular user, expanding their horizons slowly through suggested content.

Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

Although we have an indentured need to protect our children in every way shape and form; children thrive on and seek truth in independence. The Childrens Society Good Childhood Report indicated an increased need for children to have more control of their information intake, and an increase in social interaction in order to increase their well-being.

So thankfully there are stand-out creators that are thriving on the platform addressing current issues and pushing otherwise silent or marginalised social causes using the satirical undertone of tik-tok to highlight how ridiculous it is to challenge basic, already established human rights.

First openly trans-female of the Faroe Islands, Cecelia Jacobsen uses the platform to tread on the fragile ego of transphobes, challenging toxic masculinity with a whip of her red lip; undressing the reality of femininity. She does with satirical humour; and she does it while looking utterly spectacular for a following audience of 88,500.

Erynn Chambers, a 28 year old elementary teacher was galvanised to action on Tik-tok to further the Black Lives Matter movement. She literally waxes lyrically about her experiences as a black female and raises awareness of anti-black racism on the platform. She has since expanded her reach into podcasts, merchandizing and other ways of online activism.

Justin Puders is a practicing psychologist who uses the rapid, dry humour of tik-tok to speak about Mental Illness. His followers refer to him as Dr. J, and he brings a whole new approach to mental health, making it feel far less intimidating. A huge step towards destigmatizing mental health disorders, and reducing barriers to more positive wellbeing.

Scottish Tiktoker Jamie Meechan began investing his time in Tiktok as a method of expression and galvinising support for socio-cultural causes, and raising awareness as a transgender male for LGBTQ+ issues.

I did have my fun on tiktok but find it is important for spreading awareness to important causes such as BLM and calling out Bigotry such as Homophobia and Transphobia which is rampant on the app also.

While 98% of Tik-tok users claim to use the app purely for the purpose of fun, distraction, innocent mockery, and branding; the still growing activism that takes place on the platform is undeniably having a profound effect. Especially since public protest has been somewhat limited due to a certain pandemic that dumped the world into an infinite social standstill. Younger generations are turning to Tik-tok for their social and cultural influences; the teaching of the tough subjects, and hard life-lessons. And social-justice figures show that Tiktok users were in greater turnout to protests than non-tiktok users.

That being said, Tiktok is slowly turning the tide on it’s audience, drawing them gently away from the method of enthusiastic free expression to something the Influencer Marketing Hub (IMH) has named “Social Commerce”. Limiting the use of certain contentious hashtags, prohibiting small-earning accounts ,and promoting those with higher engagement involving more sucessful brands.

Jamie confirms the censorship:

A few of [my] videos will show as deleted as the originals have been taken down for community guideline violations etc which is a good thing means that tiktok are doing their best to take down videos that are being prejudiced…something that I believe [other social media] are severely lacking…the number of posts I’ve reported [on other platforms] coming back [saying]that it doesn’t go against community guidelines is ridiculous.

The Tiktok app tapped an unseen market. Now the stocks want it back. Here the IMH sets out how mainstream brands and the “old-school” celebrity will tap into this market by appealing to the masses in an altogether more “human like” approach. Sort of like the borg, or a fungus. The IMH forsees top companies such as Zaful and Coca-cola replicating the community in order to assimilate it. Using the powerful ignorance and influence of youth, and that gap between pre/post-pandemic generations to mutate a community into a commodity; A commodity that still only serves the top 10% of world capital earners. Reintroducing conventional celebrities as “enlightened” and “homely”; replacing grass-roots creators with the same rich folk seemingly evolved by the pandemic into just “being like other people.” Could this be the reclaiming of the worlds most vulnerable’s most valuable method of connecting; reintroducing them to the stream of adverts akin to the 15 mins between your favourite tv-shows? Only this time; it will be constant.

I shall leave it to Phoebe Buffay to play a mixed-up and confused audience out…with some adaptations:

“Sometimes brands love people
And sometimes brands love brands.
And then there are the communists though some just think they’re kidding themselves…”

Thank you so much for reading my opinion piece! If my waffle has interested you, you can follow me on my instagram: The Borderline Kitty or check out my other bits and pieces by clicking here

I talk all things advocacy, mental health, travel and nonsense!

Furious learner, exploring personal development, mental health advocacy and human connections.

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