TikTok sub­con­sciously teaches its users that likes and views are akin to deep, per­sonal con­nec­tions | Pikist

TikTok, the app taking popular culture by storm, is the fastest growing social media platform with around 800 million active users. Despite being a mere five years old, the pres­ident of the free world has ref­er­enced the app on more than one occasion. How did TikTok become so popular?

TikTok is addictive. And young people are so accus­tomed to the impul­sivity the app cul­ti­vates they don’t even realize they’re hooked.

According to a study done by Microsoft, the average human attention span is now less than 8 seconds, making the 15-second TikTok videos perfect for the spo­radic modern mind. Our brain uses a neu­ro­trans­mitter called dopamine to reward us for con­suming infor­mation that is judged to be ben­e­ficial. This warm fuzzy feeling we get after a good meal is the same feeling we get from paying attention to some­thing inter­esting. This makes TikTok a dopamine jackpot, as its algo­rithm con­stantly refreshes a page with new content based on user data. 

In an article about the addictive nature of TikTok, Eliza Aguhar writes, “Motion attracts our attention because it helps us survive. It’s the reason why five billion YouTube videos are watched per day and the average American only reads for an hour and a half per year.” Ref­er­encing the TikTok algo­rithm, Aguhar notes, “The more content we’re faced with, the less our attention span is and the greater our urge to look at new content.” 

And TikTok’s content is less than ideal. As Data Series writes, “If the platform aims to present cre­ativity, knowledge and pre­cious life moments, why is the content restricted to 15 second videos?” Assistant Pro­fessor of Psy­chology Ben­jamin Winegard says that in com­parison to other social media plat­forms, TikTok is “probably the least sub­stantive. The content that’s rewarded is not thoughtful or rich. Younger people are spending a lot of time and energy to produce this ephemera.”

And if that isn’t enough, TikTok sub­con­sciously teaches its users that likes and views are akin to deep, per­sonal con­nec­tions. 

“TikTok plays on these kinds of neu­rosystems that have evolved for real social contact,” Winegard said. 

Although unco­or­di­nated dances to the newest Ariana Grande hit gen­erate the most likes and views, it teaches users to base their actions on what is popular or main­stream. 

“Instead of your worldview being some­thing that is intrin­si­cally valuable to you and gained through study, con­tem­plation, and hard thought, you just do whatever anybody else is doing,” Winegard said. 

In sum, if humans don’t act inten­tionally, they end up blindly pro­moting the agendas of trend­setters. 

Maybe TikTok is redeemable and maybe it isn’t, but one thing is for sure: it ought to be treated with extreme caution.