I did an informal survey among undergraduate students. This is not a representative sample of American youth. Before answering the question “How is TikTok affecting your peers?” they had just heard about the TikTok recommendation algorithm. Answers might have been slightly different if they had not been primed to think about the app from a business perspective.
Most of the answers were negative, both among students who use TikTok themselves and especially from students who are staying off of the app. Some answers presented both a positive and a negative reply.
Here is one of the more positive replies:
“TikTok is affecting my peers in a few different ways. On the positive side, people can learn very useful things on the app. On the negative side, it can be very time consuming. I have heard from many friends how they have wasted a lot of their time on TikTok when they could have been doing something more productive.”
Some students emphasized the social aspect:
“TikTok is one of the biggest social platforms amongst my friends and I. When we hangout, we are creating our own TikToks, but when we are apart we are able to share videos with each other. TikTok for me is a big rabbit hole that I find myself spending way too much time on.”
Also, they believe that this platform, more so than the original social networks, allow a new user to break out. “The idea that a normal, average person can post on TikTok and have a likelihood of it becoming viral is what has launched the platform.” I can see how a 20-year-old today would think Twitter is less fun because it is hard for a newcomer to get noticed.
Some students mentioned the addictive aspect of TikTok:
“I see a lot of my peers stay on the app for long periods of time. I can’t count the amount of times people say something about how they didn’t realize they were scrolling for an hour before they looked at the clock.”
“I have three friends back home who are being affected by Tik Tok in the worse way possible. All they do is watch Tik Toks all day and has even affected their sleep schedule cause they can’t put their phone down. It’s hard to see my friends sucked in the rabbit hole.”
“Personally, I have had to set screen time limits for TikTok through my phone’s settings because I can easily spend extended periods of time of the app without even realizing it; and even then, sometimes, I even override the limits I have set in place because I want to see even more content.”
The funniest line award goes to: “I personally hate TikTok and think it is rat poison.”
I wonder how the responses might have differed if I had asked a similar question to college students about TV and video games 20 years ago.
I use Twitter frequently. Maybe I spend more time on it than I should, and I don’t support as many paid media outlets as I might otherwise. Thus, the non-Twitter world is less rich for today’s college students.
For balance, here’s how Big Tech helped me in the past week. I needed to help my son build a model rocket from a kit. Some stranger kind young man had made an excellent YouTube video detailing how to make this rocket. This video really helped me, and the man should get the satisfaction of one more watch on his views count.
Whatever the pros and cons of endlessly watching cute cat videos – – no argument that YouTube is an incredibly rich trove of useful information and instruction.