TikTok needs to go

As one of the most popular social media apps, TikTok opponents are few and far between. Photo courtesy of Unsplash


I regret to inform you all, Collegian Nation, that I’m siding with the boomers on this one: TikTok needs to go. 

My most dedicated readers — approximately three people, give or take — are no doubt shocked by this revelation. After all, the topics of my previous articles speak to a chronically online persona with a niche passion for investigating corners of the Internet that few others dare to traverse. Surely I, of all people, should be singing the praises of that infamous video app, home to realms of discourse beyond imagination — from reclaiming slurs to reality shifting to whether criticizing Taylor Swift’s carbon emissions is an act of misogyny. Spoiler alert: it’s not

A more objective writer might argue that all social media platforms consist of good and bad qualities, and to reduce any one platform solely to its negative effects would be a massive and potentially damaging oversimplification. However, I was not hired as an opinion columnist for my objectivity. Moreover, I think there are enough people in the world who celebrate TikTok that I feel a refreshing lack of responsibility to speak about any of TikTok’s redeeming qualities — should they exist at all. 

The fact is, TikTok is an irrefutable source of harm —  especially for younger generations — and we need to talk about it. 

Junior English major Miranda Emerick has not used TikTok for several months, but at one time, she was a self-professed chronic scroller. She brought up an issue that many medical professionals have observed as well: a significantly decreased attention span in adolescents and young adults. 

“I had this constant need for stimulation, so I would open TikTok and leave [my phone] next to me while I was putting my makeup on and just scroll through it,” Emerick said. “I was spending so much of my day just mindlessly scrolling. And once I deleted it, I found that I had a lot more brain space to do the things I actually wanted to do.” 

Emerick’s experience is far from isolated. Most offline hobbies can’t hold a candle to the endless entertainment that TikTok provides with its trademark short-form videos. As a result, certain pastimes such as reading, working with textiles or learning an instrument are falling out of fashion because they require a dedicated concentration that most of us can no longer maintain for an extended period of time. 

This issue has certainly contributed to the rise of the iPad kids, who are an endless source of criticism and satire for Gen-Z, millennials and boomers alike. But many of us don’t seem to fully comprehend the consequences of decreased attention spans in our own lives.

Unfortunately, the bite-sized video format that characterizes TikTok has very real repercussions. Many avid users are losing the ability to absorb large amounts of information, and they expect nuanced and complex topics to be presented to them in easily digestible portions. Current events, for example, become obsolete the moment they can no longer be translated into eye-catching captions. These patterns can be observed on other social media sites as well — after all, what international political scandal hasn’t received the Instagram infographic treatment

Another major area of criticism for Emerick was the relentless product promotion she observed in the majority of the videos that crossed her feed. 

It’s no secret that TikTok is the spawning ground for thousands of micro-trends, ranging from books to clothing styles to makeup products. Where these micro-trends become an issue, however, is when they encourage overconsumption by giving the impression that happiness and social currency can be achieved through material goods. 

“It just felt like I was being constantly bombarded with things that I needed to spend money on,” Emerick said. 

The trademark facade of TikTok — where perfect skin, glamorous clothing and ultra-thin bodies seem to be in abundance — is just another mechanism to keep users addicted to the app. But TikTok users don’t just lie about themselves or the so-called perfection of their own lives. They also lie about relevant political issues and news, often promoting propaganda as unequivocal truth. 

Sophomore psychology major Alayna Barton spoke about the general trend of misinformation that seems to run rampant on TikTok. 

“I would see a lot of people talking about current events or politics,” Barton said. “But when I went to check with a reliable source, I would see something completely different. On TikTok, people are always putting their own perspectives on things and passing it off as fact, and that creates a lot of misinformation.” 

Most recently, Israeli propaganda actors as well as global supporters of Zionism have taken to the platform to spread anti-Palestine propaganda in order to perpetuate their genocide. This type of content is commonly shared and treated as objective, contributing heavily to the global spread of Islamophobia and anti-Arab discrimination, and thus demonstrating the very tangible consequences of misinformation campaigns. 

Unfortunately, TikTok is no stranger to reproducing systems of oppression through both its content and policies. 

Victory Sampson, a junior strategic communication and multilingual studies double major, is a longtime content creator on TikTok, and as a result, has become intimately familiar with the app’s questionable behavior towards marginalized users. 

“I’ve definitely had friends who are content creators who have been shadowbanned,” Sampson said. “And then there was this thing a little while ago where Black creators were having their videos taken down just for saying the word ‘Black’ in them. And there’s also a lot of really intense misogynoir towards Black women, especially in their comment sections.” 

This type of treatment is not necessarily isolated to TikTok; however, its distinct, highly tailored algorithm means that echo chambers are widely embraced across the app. As a result, problematic behavior tends to be encouraged by tight-knit groups of like-minded users. 

Any space that allows bigotry to fester — whether deliberately or accidentally — is one whose existence needs to be questioned. But this is far easier said than done, especially given the recent debates of censoring and even banning TikTok, ostensibly due to data privacy concerns. Despite the harm that TikTok undeniably causes, the prospect of government intervention is not an ideal solution. 

“We don’t need a legal precedent that says the government can regulate social media platforms,” Sampson said. “But there needs to be restrictions. There needs to be a position where someone — a real person, not AI — can screen content and determine that something is sexist or racist or homophobic. And the reporting system needs to be a lot more specific, too.” 

Unfortunately, Sampson acknowledged that these policies will probably never be implemented without some serious shift in the way social media platforms are run. The fact is, addiction, propaganda and hate speech are valuable tools for a late-stage capitalist empire. TikTok keeps us pacified and divided — a perfectly insidious mechanism to ensure that the status quo remains uncontested.


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