TikTok has over one billion monthly active users globally. To put that into perspective, that’s about one in every seven people. With TikTok and other apps being so commonly used, there have been countless conversations surrounding the positive and negative impacts the internet can have on our daily lives.
It should be no surprise that the algorithm is one of the most harmful aspects of the internet. It is designed to collect data to make one’s scrolling experience catered toward personal interests. For example, you may notice how your “For You” page often changes based on certain videos that you like, or how your explore page looks so aesthetically pleasing and radiates oddly similar vibes to your favorite influencers. Personalizing the social media experience makes it more enjoyable for each user and ultimately more addicting.
The seemingly obvious solution to avoid falling down this rabbit hole is probably to stop using social media in the first place. Right? Well, Trevor Haynes, a research technician in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, explains in his article on Science in the News, “Although not as intense as [a] hit of cocaine, positive social stimuli will similarly result in a release of dopamine, reinforcing whatever behavior preceded it. Cognitive neuroscientists have shown that rewarding social stimuli—laughing faces, positive recognition by our peers, messages from loved ones—activate the same dopaminergic reward pathways.”
If people could just stop using social media, I think they would. But their brains have grown so accustomed to receiving daily notifications that fuel their daily dose of social validation, functioning in a similar way to cocaine, which is what makes these platforms quite literally so addicting. Now that it’s been established that simply quitting TikTok is not that simple, let’s zoom in on unexplored harmful impacts.
It is a natural human tendency to want to fit in, to align with the majority. Whether it’s in real life or on a screen, being different is difficult. Social media platforms create a hotspot for dictating what is “in” versus what is “out.” While some may argue that these platforms provide spaces that celebrate unique and diverse identities and personalities, it has become clear that only certain types of “different” are accepted. Specifically, on apps such as TikTok, where you see a single video of a complete stranger, it’s incredibly easy to judge an entire person based on that one mere “interaction.” In addition, people on the internet can be ruthless. Comment sections are filled to the brim with blunt humor — which yes, can be entertaining sometimes, but it inflicts an unconscious sense of fear in other viewers. No one wants to be scrutinized by user02139485 with no profile picture.
Furthermore, social media is (in)famous for spreading trends like wildfire. From clothes to music, trends are continuously changing; and users who are chronically online tend to join in, due to fear of being considered “out.” Trends force labels onto people and categorize them based on “aesthetics.” What people don’t realize is that when people start dressing the same, they simultaneously begin acting the same. For instance, think about the ways people used to laugh online: LOL, LMAO, etc. Now remember when people in TikTok comments began “keyboard smashing” (i.e. ASJWGHIHD), and suddenly everyone started using these random jumbles of capital letters to express aggressive laughter over text? Or when people deemed the laughing emoji an ick and now much fewer people (unironically) use it; even the short-lived “fairy comments.” My friends who aren’t terminally online often tell me it’s so easy to tell when someone owns TikTok. People acquire similar or even identical mannerisms, preventing the development of the authentic self.
Mannerisms become part of a personality. People on the same side of the algorithm begin using the same jokes, the same insults, and even having the same perspectives on certain topics. But on social media, everything is continuously changing. As mannerisms transform from one thing to another, personalities begin changing as fast as your standard microtrends. People should develop their personalities based on their life experiences, way of thinking, and who they are, but social media platforms make it so easy to fall into the temptation of becoming their internet persona. Yes, it can be easier to bond with other people if everyone has the same sense of humor, but what’s the point of socializing with others if they’re a carbon copy of yourself? There’s a sense of pride that accompanies feeling different. Social media culture drowns out my own authenticity. The qualities that once made me, me, have turned into fleeting trends and my character has become someone else’s phase.
In a National Library of Medicine research paper, multiple professionals claim, “Ultimately, the immediacy of information about the social activities delivered via social media has the potential to cause a continuous, subtle strain on the identity of the younger generation, which is cross-linked by different types of technology.”
Evidently, social media isn’t going anywhere and neither are its side effects. So be proud of your uniqueness, our individuality is what makes us worth getting to know.