If you’ve been self-isolating in the Sahara Desert, you may not be aware of TikTok. Just to fill you in, TikTok is a video-sharing networking app that launched in 2016. It’s been popular since then but during this pandemic TikTok’s popularity has dramatically spiked. People over the age of 40 are becoming aware of it, that’s when you know a social network is thriving. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter remain popular but it feels like TikTok is where it’s at right now. From what I’d seen it didn’t seem like something I’d enjoy but I downloaded it to give it a try.
I was inspired to download TikTok for journalistic purposes to check out the informative Covid 19 videos being produced by my Ulster University journalism colleagues. Most people wouldn’t think of TikTok as a news platform but there’s definitely a market for informative content on it. There can be a lot of bluster with the news, a quick clip on TikTok can get to the point and present the facts quickly. The #ulsterjournos TikToks have amassed over 100,000 views in a few weeks. I applaud their innovation and creativity to bring news to a growing platform and engage a primarily young audience.
Unfortunately for TikTok, my positives for it largely start and end with the band of Ulster Journos. I’m probably very out of touch and not this app’s demographic but here’s a few things I found troubling about it.
First of all, in my experience this app was very addictive. When all you have to do is swipe down to see the next video it can become quite difficult to leave. Even if the videos I saw were only mildly entertaining I would keep scrolling. I would compare swiping for the next video to playing a slot machine. That clip wasn’t to my liking but maybe I’ll like the next one.
After a while the trends of the videos quickly become apparent. People saying nope and yes to an incredibly infuriating song, people listing facts you didn’t know. After a while it becomes very formulaic but addictive nonetheless.
Whilst the general content out there is average with the odd gem, things started to go down hill when I saw the Northern Ireland TikToks (not all of them but a select few). I don’t mean to be rude when I say that basically anyone in Northern Ireland could make a lot of the popular NI TikToks. Tweet that you don’t like Portadown, no one will probably care. Say it on a TikTok, here’s your 10,000 likes. Much of it boils down to old tropes like “you’re an idiot if you went to x school.”
Obviously I chose to watch these videos, due to the nature of the algorithim when I watched one Northern Ireland clip, more kept coming my way. The most negative aspect of Northern Ireland TikTok is the sectarianism or green and orange politics that comes into play. In my opinion, most people aren’t attempting to be blatantly sectarian on the app but it falls into playing two sides against each other. There’s nothing creative about holding a flag and mouthing off about what you like to call Derry/Londonderry.
If the videos themselves can be bad the comments are worse. Countless flag emojis and various remarks on whatever community the poster comes from. I just don’t know what it’s trying to prove. I appreciate the app is aimed at a younger audience but some of this stuff is just immature. Why ask someone’s religion in a comment? How will it make you better off to know that piece of information?
It’s not my intention to adopt a broad stroke approach and tar Northern Ireland and TikTok in general with the same brush. There are TikToks out there which are informative, funny and inspiring, the problem is finding them in the polluted sea. Thankfully I’m a bit older as I have concerns about the pressures this app could place on young people. They could open up TikTok and think everyone’s having a better time than them. The people with millions of followers on TikTok don’t have a perfect life, because no one has a perfect life. We project our best selves for our 15 seconds of fame in the anticipation that the virtual hearts will roll in. Do you know what a like is? It’s someone pressing a button. The pressing of a button can be what we rely on for our self-worth and validation.