The Toxicity of TikTok


Most people born in the 21st century are familiar with the booming social media app, TikTok. But based on recent observations, the app has started to cause some disruption on an international level. Don’t get me wrong, TikTok has brought an outlet to many groups of people, giving them a way to reach others with their music, art, skills, and opinions. But the latter in excess, exactly the environment TikTok provides, raises the question: When does social media become a social problem?

One of the biggest influences TikTok has had on the social climate is its control over middle class fashion trends and beauty standards. From siren eyeliner to low-rise jeans making a comeback, it seems like there’s something brand new weekly. But the darker side of this is the pressure and unrealistic expectations that these ideas encourage. Most fashion trends, as has been throughout history, favor an unhealthily thin physique. The idea of buying oversized clothes is based on the idea of an ambiguously skinny body type that medium and plus-sized individuals can’t take part in, but has been glorified into a trend of body checking. Picture this: a girl stands in front of a camera in a t-shirt twice her size. She turns, and the captions say “She probably wears such big clothes because she’s fat under there.” The girl pulls tight on the shirt, revealing her impossibly thin waist to her thousands of followers. This is only one of the many ways users of TikTok contribute to the never-ending expectations of weight as a beauty standard. 

While the users themselves create a climate of body shaming, the platform itself has given even more tools to create poor self-image. The filter mania was fun near TikTok’s youth, but as of late it has become a way of seamlessly altering one’s face for social media. The filters usually claim some kind of makeup look, but they end up altering the user’s face. A ‘lashes and liner’ filter often means lashes, line, contour, a nose job, and slimming your face. The difference is jarring, morphing people’s own perception of themselves and how others view them.

Even if you don’t partake in the fashion and beauty side of TikTok, you haven’t dodged the problem entirely. The app has a wonderful platform for making people’s voices heard, but it isn’t an effective way to hold discourse. The format of a short video with comments prevents constructive responses and criticisms from taking place, and instead rallies people together on one side or another. The algorithm doesn’t exactly help with this, either. The algorithm shows you what you want to see. The more you interact with a certain viewpoint, the further and further it will pull you in that direction. The back and forth of posts and duets, and stitches to the duets has a polarizing effect on people’s political ideals, widening political division one post at a time. And don’t think social media doesn’t have an impact on the real world. In 2020, users encouraged their followers to purchase tickets to a huge rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump and to not show up, which resulted in a half-empty stadium for the rally. People take TikTok seriously as a means of mass communication, and large scale movements can take place, for better or worse.

I asked Enloe students what they thought about TikTok in a simple survey, and the results tell an important story about the opinions of our generation about the social media we use on a daily basis. 94% of respondents agreed that TikTok is a platform that gives people space to express themselves. 72% think that TikTok isn’t body neutral, and only 11% of students felt that TikTok was an effective way to hold discourse, the rest disagreeing or neutral. Overall, the respondents were very on the fence about whether TikTok has had a positive or negative impact on students, so I asked them to elaborate. A majority said that it was a wonderful platform for expression and creation, but when it comes to more serious issues it falls flat. Misinformation was a large concern, as well as the effect on our attention spans and self-image. 

In today’s social climate, it’s hard to resist popular apps like TikTok, but sometimes it’s best to let go of things that could be negatively affecting your health and mindset. If you ever feel pressured or down after scrolling, taking a break for a little while is always a good option. It’s important to solidify your mindset and grow yourself before diving into the infinite world of endless ideas that the internet has bestowed on us. And, as a friendly reminder, TikTok does not count as a reliable news source!