- Pablo Lacalle Castillo
Politiktok: why social media’s biggest craze has crippled political discussion.
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
It has admittedly become somewhat of a cliché to point out the irony that in an unprecedented age of mass human communication, we have the capacity to say so much, yet say so little. This viewpoint naturally stems from somewhere, namely thanks to well-founded concerns over social media’s ability to propagate endless feedback loops. Due to the block function, users are able to mute the opinions they find displeasing. This has become especially prevalent on TikTok, the wildly popular app, with 700 million users in 2020 and close to one billion in 2021 (according to Business of Apps).
Politics has invariably found a thriving home on TikTok, but from my experiences with the app, decidedly for the worse. The problem isn’t reserved specifically for the app, broadly speaking its symptomatic of all social media in general.
However, through its format of quick, short videos, TikTok presents an issue in that major political discussions worthy of measured debate are packaged into rapid-fire, bitesize chunks, obliterating any semblance of the time needed to digest said issues in a meaningful way. It is true some creators go the extra mile to provide more meticulous explanations, but they are an exception rather than the rule.
Instead, others package their beliefs in ways that seem to fundamentally detract from their seriousness: setting the videos to trending pop-songs, accompanying them with quirky dances, audio from T.V shows or movies and sometimes even sporting costumes to mock whichever side of the political spectrum they happen to be skewering. This treatment in many ways removes the weight behind the subject matter, detracting from its relevance and instead presenting it as an arbitrary way for users to gain traction and views on their accounts.
The content of said videos, ornamentation aside, is also largely made up of simplistic slogans, strawman arguments and performative activism. When politics find a home on platforms in which success is linked to the number of likes on a post, people quickly hijack legitimate movements and repurpose them into hashtags plastered all over comments sections and bios as a means to display to the world one’s virtue (e.g.#StopAsianHate). The person in question rarely actually aids the cause in a tangible way.
Additionally, since on TikTok you choose who you follow, political discussions quickly become self-congratulatory echo chambers. ‘Debates’ quickly descend into vicious trolling ( so serious that the platform had to issue new features to tackle it) or rabid repetition of opinions and buzzwords with neither side willing to budge. With anyone, from expert to amateur having free reign to jump on popular bandwagons, TikTok, an app whose emphasis on brevity and rapid-fire entertainment defines it, has become a landscape for politics to become even more divisive, contentious and counterproductive.