(Opinion) Social Media

A woman connects with friends on social media over a meal.

Social media is taking over our lives: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and now, TikTok. These social media platforms have transformed from a way to stay connected to an industry where even kids can make money off their posts. While this may seem like another opportunistic innovation, it’s really a pitfall of false realities and unwarranted hero worship. 

Before I go any further, I will add that I myself have TikTok, and I think it’s a great way to get a laugh and for people to express their creativity. I have nothing wrong with TikTok being used as an outlet for creativity, but I do have an issue with people even younger than me being paid thousands of dollars for posting a short video of themselves dancing in a bikini.  

The  median income recorded in the United States of America was approximately $63,000 in 2018. TikTokers can make anywhere from $50k-$150k for a TikTok brand partnership. TikTokers with over a million followers can make up to $30k a month — $360,000 a year. TikTokers are making more than the average person trying to feed their family and keep a roof over their heads, simply by posting a 20 second video of them performing the now-trendy “WAP” dance. 

This is ridiculous in more ways than one. Not only is it a grossly overpaid “job,” it promotes undeserved worship from viewers and a false sense of reality. Many of these famous TikTokers are still minors, and the effects of fame at such an early stage in life can cause issues later in life, such as drug abuse and mental illness. Teens between the ages of 13 and 17 make up 27% of TikTok viewers. At such a developmental stage in life, they can be easily influenced by the people they are watching. They can put a false sense of self-value into who they look up to and what they represent: money, fame, being considered conventionally attractive. Overall, this can create a cycle of self-esteem destruction. 

Richard Colyer, president and creator of Metaphor, Inc. since 1988, which provides custom software development, system integration and network engineering, had his own view on this issue. 

“It sounds great that kids can make money for doing the latest dance moves in a 20 second clip, but we should nourish the minds of kids and not just their bank accounts,” Colyer said. “TikTok, like all of the other social media platforms, can be great if used properly and if the data is not exploited for nefarious purposes, and if the users do not become obsessed with what is surely a transient thing and instead devote at least some of their attention to education and the acquisition of skills, that can help assure a productive life. Money alone is not good, technology alone is not good and connectedness can be bad if it's only online.” 

Matthew Kovach, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech in the Department of Economics, shed some light on why TikTok becoming its own industry is a good thing. 

“I see no reason why TikTokers shouldn’t be paid,” Kovach said. “At the end of the day, TikTokers are the ones producing the content. TikTok itself is a platform and needs producers … In fact, there are some ways in which TikTok marketing is potentially more valuable. First, followers tend to be younger. This has a value to a firm if you can turn this person into a lifelong customer. Second, at least some followers tend to be very loyal. Third, you can actually get data on how effective the sponsored post was based on clicks and views. Finally, followers often self-select based on their interests. For instance, a firm might not know the best way to reach people to advertise a new game or a beauty product, but you can usually tell a lot about the interest of the followers of Tiktokers.” 

While TikTok has become a great tool for marketing, it’s important to understand how this content affects young viewers. If we’re constantly consuming content that shows us all we need to do to be successful is be conventionally attractive and post a 30 second video featuring a new dance, it will skew our perceptions of what really makes someone successful and will in turn will affect our individual work ethics. What about the people who miss birthdays and family holidays due to their jobs and aren’t getting paid nearly as much as these TikTokers? 

Again, as a fellow consumer of TikTok, I do enjoy the app when I have some time to kill and need a good laugh. I’m not against someone making a living off entertainment, but what does getting famous off of a 10 second video teach young people? You don’t need to work hard to be successful, all you need to do is be lucky.