TikTok rises as haven from Gen Z anxieties

A cell phone screen shows a mirrored TikTok logo, one side bright and normal, the other dark and dilapidated
Illustration by Maya Winshell

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, teens have flocked to TikTok, a video-sharing app, as a cure for boredom. The app has kept its young users busy, from the crowdsourced production “Ratatouille The Musical” to Korean pop music fans organizing to troll a rally for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. It has also inspired people of all ages to pursue different hobbies and create a culture for mental health and social justice awareness. In times of self-isolation and uncertainty, TikTok has become a place of solace for many young people. 

This past fall, I hesitantly downloaded TikTok. The app had made news for its growing culture of misinformation and concerning privacy policy. I expected to delete it within a week. Instead, I realized the app had everything I had been missing during the lockdowns. 

One of the best things about TikTok is that it inspires its users to engage in new hobbies through its various communities. After a few months on the app, I had dabbled into the different sides of TikTok, including communities in politics, traveling, art and mental health. The cooking community is where I ultimately found my place. A few cooking videos and a tablespoon of inspiration later, I grabbed my pots and pans and put my culinary skills to the test.  

What started as a peak of curiosity stemming from a few 60-second clips turned into a passion. When I was home alone and found myself overwhelmed during the holiday break, I turned to cooking. 

TikTok’s cooking community offers a wide palette of mesmerizing content. As a college student on a budget, I thank TikTok for vegan cinnamon rolls and mini pancake cereal recipes that do not break the bank. 

All credit is due to the user Justine Doiron (@justine_snacks) who catalyzed my cooking career. Doiron adds a pinch of vulnerability to her content by retelling her struggle with an eating disorder from ages 14 to 23. She has also been a strong advocate of the anti-diet movement and Health At Every Size. Her platform as a TikTok chef has been all about changing the stigma around diet culture and emphasizes her lacking use of the word “healthy.” 

Younger users have also used the platform to discuss personal experiences with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and relationship abuse. Conversations surrounding emotional well-being have never been more important, as mental health resources have been limited due to the pandemic. The overall intentions and responses to these videos have been fairly positive. Unlike other social media platforms, TikTok provides a raw, unfiltered insight into others’ lives and the challenges of those living with mental illness. 

“Young people are willing to have conversations even people a few generations ago have not had,” Jessa Lingel, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview for the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You have a generation that has completely let go of that. It’s kind of like, ‘How can we all get through this together? How can we share content to deal with this together?’” 

Communities acknowledging important social and political issues have also gained traction on the platform as a communication network for activists. Users have taken to the platform to redefine political activism with distributive justice, or distributive equality. After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, videos promoting petitions and organizations for racial justice spread far and wide. 

TikTok is far from a perfect platform, but that should not dim its charm. The app has created a community that stands out from any other social media platform by far. Through its quirky songs and engaging communities, TikTok has managed to build a strong interconnection between its users.

This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log and its editorial board.

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