Tik Tok Takes Society By Storm

Alexis Ramirez

In the month of September, viral video app TikTok was the most downloaded app in the US on the App Store’s Top Charts, surpassing social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. TikTok, known as Douyin in China, is a social media app that allows users to create and share short music videos. It was launched by ByteDance in China in September 2016, becoming a leading short video platform in Asia.

If this idea sounds familiar, well, it is. Musical.ly was a social media app headquartered in Shanghai with an office in Santa Monica, California, on which, similarly to TikTok, users could create and share 15-second to 1 minute lip-syncing videos. Musical.ly quickly grew in popularity in the US and around the world with popular content creators, known as “musers,” quickly rising to fame. In November of 2017, Bytedance acquired musical.ly for US $1 billion, merging them into a single app named TikTok in August of 2018.

This all seems pretty normal up until this point. It’s nothing more than a simple teen fad that will go away in a matter of months, right? Wrong. Although the popularity of this app will surely fade, certain people view the culture surrounding this social media network as a serious cause for concern. The TikTok community is currently facing a wave of toxicity like it’s predecessor musical.ly did.

A multitude of internet users described the content produced by musers, many of them children, as “cringy” and many content creators heavily criticized them. These content creators, like Leafyishere, Pyrocynical, RiceGum, and Keemstar, in turn were described as “cyberbully channels.” Today, many TikTok users face cyberbullying from other members of the community.

It is important to acknowledge that there is more to TikTok than simply being a cesspool for cyberbullies. In my opinion, content on TikTok can be divided up into four different categories: unironic original content, duet content, offensive content, and miscellaneous content. Obviously, these categories are not set in stone and the lines are often blurred.

Let’s begin with unironic original content. The majority of the content that falls into this category is the original musical.ly content that you may be familiar with. Users are able to produce their own original lip-syncing interpretations of songs, quotes from popular media like TV and film, community challenges, and user created “sounds.” These user created “sounds” include content created by subcultures like the furry fandom and the cosplay community as well as by the general internet population.

After the merger, TikTok introduced a feature known as “duets” allowing users to create a sort of reply in which the second user’s video plays on the right of the first user’s video simultaneously. The person replying does not need consent from the original creator in order to build upon it. This feature has been used both to produce offensive ironic and creative unironic content.

Offensive content on TikTok comes in two forms: bullying content and original offensive content. Bullying content takes advantage of the duet format to attack other users. Users compare the appearance of users to that of characters from pop culture, point and laugh at users who are trying to share serious content, and create ironic content by juxtaposing the two videos. In one such video [mild language], a user voices her annoyance at people who “comment on bigger girls’ videos saying that they’re unhealthy and live and unhealthy lifestyle.” Multiple users used the duet feature to reply by recording themselves working out. In a video [explicit language] that could be described as meta, a user urges the people who are making these bullying videos to “wake the f*** up” and realize the possible consequences of their actions. On the other hand, original offensive content is created solely for the purpose of being offensive. These videos are often times racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and fat-shaming. Due to their offensive content, I’ve decided not to cite any examples, but it’s not hard to stumble upon these videos after a few minutes on the app or on YouTube compilation videos.

Many users also criticize people who, in their opinion, should not be using the TikTok app. These people include members of the military, police officers, and adults.

Toxic content aside, many users are using the duet feature to create creative videos or creating their original comedic content. Some of this content could be described as Vine-like, reminiscent of the videos posted to the now defunct app known as Vine. Some users have gotten very creative with their content, making visuals line up perfectly and building upon each others’ work. In one such video, users place items mentioned in the lyrics of Yung Gravy’s ‘Cheryll’ on a table as they’re mentioned. Other notable videos show users moving across screens and users fighting each other. A large amount of videos make some reference to video games, including Fornite, Minecraft, and Roblox.

Are concerns over this social media up valid? Zayana Cabrera, 19’, acknowledged that these claims are “certainly valid” but posed another question, “Do we care?” Many argue that it’s fine to laugh at the expense of others because it’s not a big deal. Some users go further than others, so we shouldn’t punish the entire community because of a small group of toxic users. Many ask, “Why do people find these types of videos funny? Why do they watch them?” “They’re just entertaining and fun to watch,” explained Marcella Perez, 22’.

In a world where we’re also so involved on the internet, it’s important to take the time to get informed and talk about issues affecting the digital community. It’s important to remember that your actions have consequences that affect others and yourself. Keep this in mind next time you’re browsing TikTok or the internet in general.