Why you need TikTok in your life (even if you’re an adult)
I only learned what a 'TikTok' is thanks to my tween son. And even then, I didn't understand the attraction.
The point of the social media platform seemed to be 'kids these days' doing silly stuff, in 15-second clips, because that's all their attention spans could cope with.
Yes, I'm a middle-aged mum, if you haven't ascertained that by now. So, I was confident that TikTok's 800 million monthly users were wrong. And boring.
But then lockdown happened, and I began to pay closer attention. At first, it was just to see other middle-aged mums doing TikTok viral dances with their kids. I so wanted to do one with my son (he refused).
After that brutal rejection, I began clicking on accounts that had nothing to do with influencing or celebrity. My son is obsessed with people you've most likely never heard of such as Mr Beast, David Dobrik and Charli D'Amelio, all of whom have millions of followers. Mr Beast is a charitable hero to my kid; Bill Gates is mine.
Once I accepted that doing a dance duet was off the table, I started looking at the content of funny mums, and parents with babies; things that brought me joy. What I never expected, though, was all the people I would see on TikTok, whom I haven't on other platforms.
There's so much diversity on TikTok: from body positive advocates, to those with medical conditions, and users from a wide variety of minorities. The people who normally are hidden from society, rarely promoted, are joyfully dancing and celebrating life.
It's an absolute joy to see, and one which no one seems to talk about.
On TikTok, you don't have to be 'perfect' or live in a 'perfect house', as you do on platforms such as Instagram. There is no emphasis on carefully curated accounts, designed to impress users with how wealthy or successful you are.
You get followers for being you.
Yes, there's a fair share of the 'aesthetically pleasing' and superficial stuff. And of course, there are detractors, who claim they are being censored because they don't fit into a norm (including singer Lizzo, who said the platform took down pics of her in her swimwear).
TikTok isn't perfect, but I enjoy it because many of the users are normalising 'difference' and giving a voice to groups which society largely ignores.
My favourite accounts are anything with babies in it, anything relatable by mums, and anyone who is just having a bloody good time being themselves. Like cheeky Claudia from Queensland, Stevoluddy who talks about his Maffucis Syndrome, and Kasim Kasim who wears chillies as fingernails - the epitome of 'you do you'.
I also love how global TikTok is. From the minute you sign up, you don't get just local content. You're shown clips from all over the world. It's a global experience.
Having said that, TikTok, which was created by a Beijing-based internet company in 2012, has been recently criticised for perceived racial bias in its algorithms, which supposedly de-prioritises accounts of black people. It's also been accused of not permitting use of the Black Lives Matter hashtag.
Last week, the platform explained a 'technical issue' with using the hashtag, and announced changes to its community guidelines as 'actionable steps' to address the algorithm issues.
But whatever TikTok does or doesn't do, you're more in control than it seems. The more you seek, and engage with, the more they will appear on your feed.
In this small way, we can support the 'unseen' in our world. Give them a creative outlet, let them know we care about who they are, and demonstrate our hunger for different perspectives.
As recent world turmoil indicates, we need a lot more of that.
Nama Winston is a columnist with Rendezview.com.au
Originally published as Why you need TikTok in your life (even if you're an adult)