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TikTok's Unconscious Impact on Culture and Its Users

We all know the feeling; settling down after a long day with a cuppa, a plate of biscuits, and your phone in your hand prepared for a few hours of mindlessly scrolling through your 'for you' page.

For many, this habit originated in lockdown, as having nothing else to do peculiarly led to the urge of wanting to watch random people dance to “Renegade” for 30 seconds at a time.

However, as guilty as we all are (me included!) of procrastinating on our phones, are we actually aware of how this may affect our brains?

Over the 21st century, social media has become a vital part of our culture, and with the internet being utilised in practically every aspect of our lives, it’s fairly hard to avoid.

From the reign of MySpace in 2008, to the immense popularity of YouTube in 2011, to the 2018 transition from to TikTok, social media, or particularly video sharing sites, these social media's will always have a special place in the hearts of those growing up on the internet.

The most liked video on TikTok, with a whopping 55.8 million likes.

But, what about TikTok?

In recent years, people have developed a constant need for faster information and brand-new trends at the touch of a button.

The TikTok algorithm is ideal to satisfy these urges; 30-second videos, trending hashtags, and content suggested specifically for you based on your previous likes is targeted to quench the thirst for constantly fresh information.

Users of sites like TikTok have even reported that while they would have watched a 30-minute video in the past, their interest is quickly lost in a matter of minutes, despite their genuine interest in said video.

Trends are constant, but the shortened periods of their collective attention can easily be attributed to the amount of information constantly pumped out due to increased production/consumption of content.

Have we seen this pattern before?

Julia Alexander talks about how the true appeal of video-sharing sites will always lie in the hands of independent creators.

Creators like Smosh, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, and Shane Dawson thrived on YouTube between 2011 and 2015, and the website gave them a creative output that was graciously received by the growing audiences of fans they had acquired.

Audiences were completely willing to sit down and watch 10-minute videos because they enjoyed consuming content from creators who were pushing videos that they had free reign over creating.

The downfall of YouTube comes down to the algorithms that left creators begging for monetisation and promotion of their videos; videos that were now buried under millions of search results and exiled from YouTube’s ‘trending’ page.

Pewdiepie's first-ever video.

For a generation of youth that grew up with these creators, we cannot help feeling disappointed by TikTok’s constantly changing trends and constant different selection of which stars to promote because we’ve seen our own favourite creators exiled by the algorithms that once led to their success.

TikTok can be viewed as akin to YouTube purely down to the reliance on independent creators and the reliance that their videos will have a significant impact on their audiences.

Alexander adds to this, saying: “the onslaught of disturbing and dangerous content that comes from people being able to anonymously share videos without consequence.”

It’s one thing to allow creators to share whatever videos they please, but the observation needed to ensure this feature is not abused is immense, and leads to devastating censorships having a direct impact on the people making such media so impactful.

This censorship is particularly poignant on TikTok, with words like “lesbian” needing to be abbreviated to “le$bean” in order for the poster to even get a glimpse of the ‘for you' page.

It’s one thing to allow creators to share whatever videos they please, but the observation needed to ensure this feature is not abused is immense.

The impact video-sharing sites hold on their users, and particularly the youth will forever be as much of a concern as it is a positive aspect.

A report from Science Times features the increased number of tics in teen girls following videos surrounding Tourette’s Syndrome shared on TikTok.

This glorification of serious mental health issues swamps the app, with an influx of videos glorifying DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) currently circulating the site.

While awareness will always be of the utmost importance, the subconscious effect that absorbing this sort of media has on the youth is a concern shared by many parents and scientists alike.

While TikTok will always be a hub for creativity, socialising, and learning, the addictive elements of its design will constantly affect us more than we’re even perhaps aware of.

The wormhole of videos we’re destined to travel down every time we open the app is truly concerning, as harmless as it may seem.

A society dominated by social media approval is one that we are living in, but is it one that we should accept?

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