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TikTok: A new form of digital storytelling?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

Humans have been telling stories to make sense of the world around them for centuries – just picture the traditional idea of sharing tales around a campfire. The new digital space in which people interact today has allowed the visual to take an increasingly prominent role within mainstream conceptions of storytelling.

The digital landscape we exist in today is composed of a multitude of different narratives, which have changed the way users understand and interact with storytelling. Social media now mostly restricts videos to a maximum of three minutes in length, making the telling of stories inherently designed to be extremely concise, often resulting in short series of videos. On the scary side of TikTok, the videos which aim to create fictional alternate realities are usually short accounts, evidentiary sightings which merge the supernatural with real-life. Much like the found footage trope of many traditional horror movies, the concise length of these videos creates an interesting storytelling effect in which the viewer feels as though they are stumbling upon evidence of true supernatural activity. One day, a video of a woman describing haunted activity within her house pops up. The next day, she may showcase a pair of glowing eyes filmed from down the darkened hallway. On the third and final day, she concludes her supernatural experience to her followers and viewers. This ‘part’ structure is but one example of the multitude of narrative threads weaved into our experience while scrolling and is one of the clearest ways that the internet has evolved the way in which we tell stories in general. 

On social media sites such as TikTok, a venue for short videos which has grown exponentially over the past years, storytelling is increasingly developed within public media spaces, transformed by the engagement of users themselves as they employ popular trends, music and video as vehicles of expression.

Challenges and trends have become a way to concisely convey the meaning of a story within a minute, or even as little as fifteen seconds. These trends, often a song that is taken up by multiple users and assigned meaning, draw upon the viewers’ shared cultural capital and understanding. Digital storytelling thereby becomes a palimpsest by using the same structure but superimposing a new interpretation upon it. For example, the “Things that just make sense” trend, accompanied by Lou Monte’s song ‘Che la luna’  has been used hundreds of times by different accounts. The viewer is able to draw on their prior knowledge of the meaning associated with this song and trend, and can easily recognise the plot-line of the new “story” in front of them.

The digital era has changed the way we follow and interact with storytelling. Social media platforms such as TikTok have shaped both users and audiences towards a new type of narrative, one that is both extremely visual and concise, but also one that draws upon collective cultural understanding and context. Storytelling is universal to the human experience; its impact evident from our earliest historical records. The digital landscape is merely a new and fascinating iteration of our desire to share and make sense of the world.

Dakota Bennett

St. Andrews '24

Dakota Bennett is a third-year at the University of St Andrews, studying International Relations and Social Anthropology. As an Australian that grew up in Paris, Dakota loves to debate different perspectives and is excited to discuss everything from the latest world news to the history of fashion trends. In her free time (see also: procrastination), Dakota is most likely baking cupcakes, facetiming her dogs, or dancing around her room to Hozier.