I’m too young to be a millennial and too old not to be one, but when it comes to TikTok, I know where I stand. TikTok does not make any sense to me. When I first downloaded the app in the pre-pandemic era, I told myself it was “for journalistic purposes” and, at the time, I wanted to understand what the madness was about. But I didn’t get the excitement, so I deleted it soon after.
But when the COVID-19 health crisis hit and we were confined to our homes, I began to hear more about TikTok’s captivating powers. Overwhelmed by tides of information and concerned about my ability to stick to my schedule, I told myself not to open yet another social media account. But fast-forward three months later, and I have now fallen into the TikTok trap after deciding to give it another chance.
Let me make this clear, I still don’t get it. I know I sound about 110 years old saying this, but I don’t get why the dances are fun to do or watch. Lip syncing doesn’t seem half as entertaining when it doesn’t involve Chrissy Teigen and I’m far too old to care about the relationship status of teenagers. All of the above notwithstanding, I’m in it for the ride, and I think you—my fellow millennials—should be too.
It’s more likely that you’ll come across very unique content and get to be known for your own individualized content in TikTok than in any other social media platform. TikTok has one of the most effective and secretive algorithms among social media platforms. If you haven’t ventured yet into the crevices of the app, TikTok opens to an individually tailored ‘For You’ feed. This is built around the information you give to the platform based on what you like and what you don’t.
When a new video is uploaded, it’s tested in the feed of a select number of users who have shown interest in related content. In contrast with your Instagram or Twitter feeds, TikTok’s ‘For You’ feed includes content from users you don’t follow, favoring a person’s chances of going viral with their content. In essence, its unique algorithm has turned TikTok into an explosive platform to rapidly amplify previously unknown users.
Even if you don’t understand the trance over tie-dyes, the incredible thing about the app is that there is simply so much more to it. An article from Wired described an entire subculture on TikTok dedicated to videos uploaded by prison inmates and their families. This type of content helps to humanize the experiences of prison inmates and highlight the importance of criminal justice reform. During the large-scale Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, it allowed activists to denounce violence as well as celebrate the beauty of protests that were otherwise not publicized on many media platforms.
To be fair, like most things on the Internet, TikTok also has a dark side. The platform has also become a beacon for extremism and, like many echo-chambered spaces on the Internet, divides its users into discrete spaces. And yet, in my experience during periods of lockdown, TikTok has continued to provide a space for community when there are no other alternatives.
Whatever your opinion is on the matter, we can’t deny that TikTok works as a social media platform. It allows for a new form of communication that is captivating audiences and getting people to pay attention. As much as I love reading and writing, I’m in awe of the production value of many of these videos. (It is unbelievable what can be achieved in under a minute). I’m also very grateful social media was a lot simpler when I was 15.
It is not the first time new trends capitalized by new generations are criticized. Figuring out what works on TikTok has helped me to learn what resonates with a younger generation that is growing up into an incredibly uncertain world: the same world as mine. For all the jokes and tension across millennials and Gen Z differences, we are facing the same challenges and have been tasked with cleaning up a pretty massive mess. It can’t hurt to work on it together.
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