(Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)
La Cañada High School

Opinion: Teens are finding power through TikTok

The controversial political climate in the United States has created a generation of young adults and teens who have, with the help of a popular app, found a new way to handle current events and political advocacy.

Not many can dispute the idea that the current political situation in the United States involves heated debates and questionable tactics. On top of the conflict between Democrats and Republicans created by the election of Donald Trump, today’s youth have witnessed the 3rd impeachment of a U.S. president in history, a global pandemic, countless school shootings and are participating in a major civil rights movement.

The teens and young adults who were not of age during the 2016 presidential election are preparing to cast their votes in November for the 2020 election. Those teens and others who will not be of voting age this year have flocked to the popular video-sharing platform, TikTok, to make jokes and find unity in politics.

Not only has TikTok become a leisurely place to consume content, but it also has an algorithm that allows users to spread awareness and open discussion about current events.

TikTok, the offshoot of the lip-syncing app Musical.ly, launched in 2017 to the public. According to Byte Dance Ltd, the Chinese company that owns the app, TikTok is used by over 1 billion users every month. According to wallroommedia.com, about 60% of Tik Tok users are Generation Z.

Teens have flocked to the app for its short fast-paced videos filled with catchy songs and humorous punchlines. With thousands of seconds worth of videos being uploaded every hour to the app and the custom “For You Page” trends and themes of content breakthrough, run their course and fade out.

Trends can range from unique dances to political jokes. The app has created a new platform to share ideas and opinions, opening up teens to express their political viewpoints.

The activism began when the conflict with Iran prompted users of the app to comment on the anxiety-inducing situation with the use of jokes regarding an impending World War III. In addition to making playful jokes about the preparation for war, users make videos spreading awareness about current events that are often neglected by the mainstream media.

Faced with a pandemic, social rights issues and humanitarian crises many teens are using their humor and video making skills to create videos on TikTok as a means to cope and affect change. Petitions for justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement are easily circulated.

For example, TikTok user DeJuan Booker has created multiple videos urging his followers to disrupt President Trump’s re-election campaign. He proposed plans to remove The Official Trump app from the Apple Store, leave poor reviews for Trump Hotels and overwhelm Trump Hotel phone lines with prank calls in different TikTok videos, all with over 12 million views combined.

The sharing algorithm allows videos to be shared and spread at a faster rate. Along with that the fact that the app has one billion monthly users, creating a large audience for the content.

The reach of the app is best shown when on July 9 users experienced a glitch. For a few hours, all videos were being displayed having zero likes and by midday, the trending videos were revolving around the glitch. While short-lived the glitch had most users panicking. The issue was resolved by a quick update, but non the less proves that teens are spending a significant amount of time using TikTok. 

As Facebook and Twitter are being taken over by adults and Instagram is becoming more visually based with less focus on captions, teens lacked an outlet for discussion of current events, at least until the advent of TikTok. The app is primarily composed of young adults and teens which creates a comfortable and relaxed platform for conversation. It is nearly free of adults who minimize the opinions of teens and when adults like that do comment, they are often quickly overwhelmed by the majority’s opinion. On TikTok, the voices of the youth can be spread with less judgment and scrutinization from adults. 

The rapid-fire spreading of information, the large audience pool and the exclusivity of the app has resulted in a trend of young advocates. Posting a video is a direct way teens can spread opinions and talk about issues that are important to them. Most teens don’t have the right to vote and often feel like their future is being controlled by adults in politics.

Teens are feeling empowered to talk about issues concerning the world and like with Trump’s presidential Tulsa rally experiment, they are making an impact. TikTok and social media advocacy are becoming the generation’s engine of change.