TikTok: The average teenager’s happy place

Popular social media app TikTok has taken the teen world by storm


Photo Courtesy of Solen Feyissa / Unsplash

Tik Tok loading screen shown on phone screen in hand.

Since 2017, TikTok has been one of the most downloaded apps of all time. On this extremely popular social media platform, anyone is free to post short videos to their heart’s content. These shared ideas have greatly influenced teenagers today in ways that have possibly shaped many opinions and personalities alike.

The TikTok experience and why it’s so popular

TikTok provides opportunity for anyone wishing to get views, share ideas or have fun. Countless trends have been started from viral TikTok videos, including the Renegade dance, POVs and the Say So dance. In 2019, VSCO girl was a popular trend that involved a whole lot of Hydro Flasks and scrunchies. DIYs and clothing trends are also very common on the app. With all of these ideas shared every day, there is no doubt that the app has affected teens in many ways. 

Freshman Victoria Yep shared her personal experience with the app and how it has affected her. 

“TikTok impacts my sense of [clothing] style because I get a lot of inspiration on there,” Yep said. 

TikTok not only inspires teenagers’ sense of style, but it also affects their lifestyles. In an Instagram poll I conducted for my followers who are students at Oak Park High School, 77% of 103 students said that they had TikTok downloaded on their device. 83% of the students who had TikTok said that the app’s content has impacted their lifestyle, ideas and opinions. 

TikTok is such a popular app that it has teenagers spending hours a day scrolling through content. In the Instagram poll, 73% of students who had TikTok claimed that they spend 1 hour or more on the app every day. The app may be so addicting because of its personalization. In 2020, the app has earned around $100 billion in value. The app has also been downloaded over 2 billion times.

Secrets to success: TikTok algorithm

TikTok has an algorithm that finds specific videos intended to please the viewer. When a user likes a post, the sound, hashtag, creator and more are noted. The algorithm then finds videos that are similar and puts them onto the user’s For You page. This is a personalized feed for each user which is filled with TikToks that are meant to amuse the user based on how they interact with the app. With each liked video, the app personalizes the user’s experience more. 

“Each of these factors is individually weighted by the TikTok’s For You recommendation system, meaning that each For You page will be completely unique to a user and their level of interest,”  Molly McGlew, writer for the blog Later, wrote. 

In an interview with the Talon, freshman Abby Berro talked about her experience with the TikTok algorithm. Her account, @abby_bearo, has 1,435 followers and a total of 415.3K likes. She noticed that hashtags, particularly specific ones that relate to the content of her videos, play a big part in getting views. 

“The tag #FYP or #foryoupage may not gain the traction because it’s not specific,” Berro said. “On my For you Page most videos usually are related to things I watch because I like videos with those hashtags.”

Trials and tribulations

Recently, TikTok has been involved in a class-action lawsuit according to the Federal Trade Commission. Many families have sued the app due to accusations that the app collects personal information including facial characteristics, location, and close contacts. This data is said to be sent to data servers in China since TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance is based in China. 

The app was nearly banned by the Trump administration back in August of 2020. The administration considered TikTok to be a national security threat. However, TikTok has denied all allegations. A Pennsylvania lawsuit in October spared the ban, and TikTok will remain usable in the United States unless the decision is overturned.

TikTok and Oak Park: A connection to teachers

Despite this, TikTok is still extremely popular. Multiple teachers in the Oak Park Unified School Districts have personal accounts, mainly for teaching purposes. Mrs. Sloan, a science teacher at Oak Park High School, is very well known for her large following on TikTok. Her teaching account, @mrssloanbiology currently stands at 120.2K (about the population of Kiribati) followers and 2.2 million likes (about the population of Gabon). She uses her platform to educate students on biology.

Why the app caters to teenagers

Teenagers tend to follow the crowd, trying out all different kinds of trends. This results from peer pressure, which affects 90% of teens.  TikTok is a leading social media platform in popularity, which explains why so many teenagers have the app. In fact, about 60% of all TikTok users are Gen Zers

“A lot of teenagers want to get famous and be like other popular creators on the app,” Yep said. She believes that many teens like her on TikTok aspire to be similar to popular creators, so they mimic their personalities, opinions and style. 

This relates back to the term “mirroring.” Since teenagers love to follow trends, they may mimic creators in the process. Popularity also plays a big role in TikTok. The more followers a creator has, the more fans, and the larger influence they have on others. 

Users also enjoy watching popular creators’ videos because TikTok videos are usually more personal than an Instagram post, so people are able to get to know the creators better. For example, you can learn more about someone’s personality through a video rather than a simple posed picture. 

“A lot of popular creators on TikTok post content that is different from their other social media platforms, so it seems more realistic and personal,” Yep said.