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The Toxicity of TikTok

The Toxicity of TikTok
an op-ed by Hannah Chen

I have yet to download the app TikTok.

Ever since the app came out, I had hesitated to try it, considering that I wanted to be wary of getting addicted like most people at the time were (and still are). Just like Instagram, TikTok is a platform to cling onto people’s attention and never let go. As a result, I figured it was best for me to stay away. That being said, the app has done some great things, from artists becoming recognized and people having the opportunity to have fun during quarantine.

However, as the year went on, my Instagram began to fill up with TikTok videos, and soon enough, I was watching these people with pretty faces begin to appear more and more often. As I became familiar with these people, I learned about their stories and what they were doing with their lives. I couldn’t tell you the true reason behind their fame, but it definitely involves a couple of these: their race, appearance, wealthy background, clothing style, and luck. And while Instagram showed me their faces, Snapchat told me who they were: young Caucasian teenagers part of content creating houses, running social media with their lives. Avoiding TikTok, as a result, was and is nearly impossible. At first, when this entire process of TikTok brainwashing occurred, I was almost mesmerized by these people––how were they living such carefree lives while I was at home studying for my next tests, worrying about my future? I envied these people whose lives looked too easy. However, as I took a break from social media, I took a step back from the dream of TikTok and woke up to reality when I heard about the parties during COVID-19, racial slurs, and the drama. Not all, but many of the largely followed influencers did deserve the envy, I realized. I became sick and tired of the consistent Snapchat involvement in what a TikToker did one day, what somebody said in response on Twitter, and how the apologies and stupidity never ended. Why were they so special? Most importantly, why were people so invested in their lives?

What infuriates me most about this app isn’t necessarily the people, the money, or the content (though there are a few exceptions, like why certain people are rising up the ranks because they can dance in a 20-second video). How come opportunities that used to be for established, well-known, memorable people have now been given to teenagers who can barely keep the drama between themselves mature? I don’t know the answer to this myself, but people admire these people on new levels where even a 16-year-old can get sponsored by all her favorite brands.

If I were to search up the name “Charli D’Amelio” on Instagram, more than a dozen accounts would pop up: fan accounts, outfit accounts, etc. Many, many people––not only teenagers, but also certain adults––have become invested in these people’s lives, who, have not done anything exceptional, pushing them to quickly type comments of love or hate. Without knowing the full story, many people are quick to assume what has been shown to them is the truth and act dumbly on that mere assumption. Furthermore, young teenagers are often idolizing these influencers in ways that seem unhealthy as they treat these people like their own best friends when really, all they know is the online persona of that TikToker. On the other hand, many can begin hating a person because of what they said ten years ago and attempt to “cancel” them. I’m not sure where to draw the line. What’s worse is that none of us know, but too many of us care too much to realize the spiral we’ve been sucked into.

This is the reality of our generation. We live in a century where the internet and social media is growing up with us, taking a step each time we scroll on an app, inching closer to us each day. I’m grateful for this opportunity to live in a world where I don’t need to spend hours at a library to find the information I need or worry about finding a phone to call my mom with because I have one in my pocket. Nonetheless, I’m afraid and concerned about the lengths people will go to to either hate on somebody or love somebody. It’s so easy to judge a person based on a small square on a screen that we can double-tap in under two seconds, and it’s so simple to press “comment” on a post where we see something we don’t like. And this goes beyond just the influencers.

So, how do we learn to let go, not to get sucked into the unimportance of other people’s business? How can we learn to unwind from the ropes of teenage drama? When will we remember that there is more than our phone screens?

I’m still learning to grasp these messages as many of us are, as we attempt to navigate a world where the media consumes our very lives. But here’s the first step, which seems simple enough, but also difficult for many people: unwind from social media every now and then. It’ll remind you that there’s so much more than petty Twitter feuds and celebrity gossip.

- Hannah Chen

Cover photo source:

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