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TikTok’s Not Just For Dancing, You’re Just Not Paying Attention

Contrary to common belief, TikTok is not just an app for trends, dances and challenges. For a community of 800 million content creators, TikTok has become a microcosm of Gen Z and early Millennial society. On TikTok, creators have a platform to spread awareness about lesser-known issues that face many communities. TikTok's unique algorithm allows users to signal boost important issues to large audiences quickly. The popular social media platform also boasts a booming and diverse community of users. Not only does TikTok provide a haven for LGBTQ+ people and other minorities, it also has many communities filled with different religious, political, cultural, and social identities. In the last year, TikTok users have utilized the platform to influence U.S. politics, race relations, spread important messages, and boost small businesses.

Among users, TikTok is thought to have several demographics that place users in certain categories based on their liked videos and interests. A few of these categories can often be referred to as Straight TikTok (the side of TikTok with mostly dance videos, challenges, and trends that TikTok is known for), Alt TikTok (where one might see lgbtq+ folks, minorities, and left leaning political videos), and Deep TikTok (strange, meme-like TikToks). Due to TikTok's algorithm, users might look at this app solely from the view of their own For You Page. However, upon a deeper investigation into the different communities within the platform, one can see that TikTok is more than just a trendy app for teens. For some, it is a lifeline to the outside world, a safe haven for sharing their personal experiences, views and identities, as well as connecting with fellow peers all over the world.

TikTok has allowed minority groups a platform to express their political views in a creative environment where they can be connected with like-minded individuals who share similar interests. For example, in June 2020, TikTok creators teamed up with Twitter Kpop stans to sink President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. By using TikTok's algorithm, creators were able to stealthily spread awareness across the platform for weeks without being detected. The app also provides a platform for conservative users to speak out their own messages and beliefs regarding #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter. In other words, the platform provides a variety of views from many different groups of people.

The popular social media platform has also helped people in other unexpected ways. For example, Sarah Turney (@saraheturney) was able to spread awareness about her sister's kidnapping case and the part her father played in her murder. Her TikToks generated more interest in the cold case due to the proactive efforts of Sarah Turney and tiktok users interested in the subject. The app has also made it possible for Shanelle Jones (@laziebonesjones) to spread awareness of her own daughter's kidnapping by her biological father. This shows that the app has been utilized in a number of important ways that have helped families gain closure and exposure to certain situations that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.

A number of small businesses have also begun to prosper as a direct result of TikTok users interest in their products. For example, sisters Bella and Lexi H. (@belexieshoppe) sell funky earrings on Depop and post aesthetically pleasing videos on tiktok to promote their products. The earrings consist of small random objects, such as Boba, fuzzy teddy bears, mini plastic dinosaurs. Many of these small business owners come from diverse backgrounds and can be of any age! Some business owners are as young as twelve years old and others much older. TikTok users have made videos urging other users to support small businesses and have in turn created a culture of respecting small businesses, start up companies, and local shops.

These are just some examples of the amazing things that TikTok has helped accomplish since its humble beginnings in 2016. This app has created a culture amongst users of all ages that values its community and works to promote diversity, small business, and political dialog between groups who otherwise might not have been heard. Even the owners of the app itself have pledged to help combat racism on their own app, showing that the community stretches to some degree to even the app itself and not just the users. It serves to amplify voices and movements, to raise awareness to important issues and to make its users laugh and become more aware of the world around them with just 60 seconds and the stroke of a finger.

Brooklyn Manga

Agnes Scott '22

Brooklyn Manga is an Atlanta-based author and poet with a preference for writing historical fiction pieces about queer youth, overcoming trauma, love, and nature. She has been published in the Blue Marble Review and Sex, Etc. Brooklyn has also written two unpublished books, many short stories, an abundance of poetry, and is currently in the process of completing her third and longest novel yet. She has been an avid reader and logophile for as long as she can remember.
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