TikTok: how the social media app keeps growing like clockwork

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TikTok: how the social media app keeps growing like clockwork

Marina Kazarian and Chloe Choi

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“Sksksk and-I oop” is a phrase Bryana Guerrero (12) often hears when wearing friendship bracelets, oversized t-shirts, and scrunchies in her messy buns, she said. She did these things before they became part of a trend that are now leading many people to call her a ‘VSCO girl.’

TikTok, a social media platform created by the Chinese Company ByteDance, has grown in popularity with 500 million people using the app. 66% of users are under 30 years old, according to Sensor Tower, an app analytics platform. The platform has sparked several trends such as the term ‘VSCO girls’ which describes people who wear items such as shell necklaces and carry Hydro Flask water bottles, and the sayings “and I oop” and “sksksk.” The app features short videos, called TikToks, that range from comedy and dance to video blogs and cooking tutorials. The “For you” page is filled with videos that the app curates for users based on the content they have watched in the past.

Vine is a popular social media platform which allows users to upload short comedic videos, but the app was shut down in 2017, so many of its users turned to TikTok to post and view similar content. “TikTok is filled with videos that emulate Vine-like comedy and is similar to Instagram in the sense that you’re able to follow people and view the content they’ve posted,” Madison Four-Garcia (10) said.

Dalia Pustilnik (10) originally downloaded the app as a joke – many of her peers thought it was “cringy,” especially because there’s a stigma around the platform being used by younger kids. However, she began to love the app after discovering its funny and relatable content, she said.

Similarly, Bethany* became addicted to the app, especially during her downtime in summer, and uses it when she’s bored or wants to procrastinate, she said. Bethany used to turn to Instagram for procrastination, but all of the videos in her Instagram explore page are now TikToks. “Why not just go on the TikTok app and get a larger variety?” she said.

Using the app is embarrassing because it has negative connotations and is mainly for little kids like middle schoolers, Bethany said.

“When I first heard of the app, I thought it would just be another quick trend that middle schoolers are hooked on,” Guerrero said. “After months went by and after months of me refusing to try the app, I downloaded it to give it a look.”

Users post videos with their friends and use the app in many of their social interactions. Pustilnik uses the platform in her free time and makes carefree videos with friends, she said. “We don’t take it seriously, but it’s just something fun for us to do together, and we’re all familiar with the dances.”

“Sometimes my friends and I will get carried away and end up spending an hour or so just learning a ‘TikTok dance’ for fun,” Guerrero said.

While Bethany uses the app as a joke, she said, some other users who make videos only claim that the videos are ironic, she said. “People who make TikToks, not usually from Horace Mann, say ‘Yeah, I make them as a joke,’ but they’re not; they’re trying to impress people and show themselves off,” she said.

Rory* downloaded the app last year to make videos with her teammates during tournaments and practices, she said. She only used it during her sports season after downloading it last year, so the app has not had a significant impact on her life, she said.

Pustilnik, on the other hand, often posts when she is with her friends.

“I think it has some effect on my social interactions,” Pustilnick said. “Nothing dramatic, but when my friends and I are hanging out, we’ll often scroll through TikTok together or make some of our own. We love watching the funny videos or attempting the dances.”

One attraction to TikTok is the connection its users feel with the people in the videos. The videos are very relatable since they do portray common high school stereotypes such as ‘VSCO girl,’ Bethany said.

The app has become so popular, Rory said. “Every major Instagram influencer uses it and their fans like to follow them on all social platforms,” she said. “Also, it is a fun way to connect and have fun with your friends

Middle School

“Middle school students are avid TikTok users,” Ariella Frommer (8) said. “On the bus, and before and after school, I see people in the hallways, mostly sixth and seventh graders, doing TikToks.”

Nia Huff (8) downloaded the app as a joke to make funny videos, she said. While she does not post often, many of Huff’s friends post frequently and she looks at their posts to watch new dance routines.

Ellie Nathan (8) posts frequently on her account and thinks “middle school students feel less embarrassed about making TikToks because most do, but high schoolers probably think it’s embarrassing,” she said. “I feel like we have a different mindset than most high schoolers. We feel more comfortable.”

“TikTok has really become super popular in the middle school, and I think particularly the eighth grade has really made TikTok a fun activity to do with friends or by yourself,” Huff said.

Damon* will often talk about, watch, and laugh at TikToks with his friends, he said. TikTok is more of an activity that Damon does outside of school, he said.

“TikTok has played a significant role in my social interactions with my friends because usually, when we are with each other, we make TikToks,” Nathan said.

Users can easily get distracted by the app, even if they do not post often. “It’s extremely easy to get distracted watching TikToks because there are so many on the ‘For you’ page,” Huff said.

“Sometimes I watch TikToks and don’t realize how much time I have spent on it,” Nathan said.

Huff has had Musical.ly, TikTok’s predecessor for a few months, she said.

“I don’t really do them as much as I did when it was Musical.ly, but once in a while, I do make one,” Damon said.

Huff thinks the platform became popular because it “allows you to be yourself and just have fun,” she said. “Compared to other apps, it requires less and everyone knows that it’s just a joke.”

VSCO Girl

The term ‘VSCO girl’ arose from TikTok and has become a part of students’ slang. Four-Garcia believes that being a ‘VSCO girl’ is about aesthetic, she said. It’s associated with puka shell necklaces, scrunchies, hydroflasks, and vaguely being an environmentalist, she said.

In addition to products, two popular phrases define ‘VSCO girls’: ‘and I oop ,’ which is used when something surprises them, and ‘sksksksk,’ which is said when one is excited.

“VSCO started off as simply a photo editing app but has somehow transpired into a personality trait for many teen girls,” Four-Garcia said. “Some take it seriously, but I feel that most take it as a joke, and it has pretty much turned into a meme on TikTok and in real life.”

“I personally don’t find the term demeaning –– I know that there are even girls who want to be a ‘VSCO girl,’ also no one seems to be getting hurt by the term,” Pustilnik said. “So as long as it maintains a playful and light hearted joke, I don’t see anything wrong with using it.”

Students in the Middle Division have caught onto the common association of certain items with the “VSCO girl” stereotype.

“I think in the younger generation, especially in the middle school, they all think ‘VSCO girl’ is their standard, and then one girl is a ‘VSCO girl,’ and so they all want to be that girl,” Bethany said. “My sister, who is a middle schooler, is a ‘VSCO girl.’”

Though, sometimes, users can be branded as pretentious ‘VSCO girls’ even if they only have a Hydro Flask or a metal straw, Huff said.

“I think that if some people buy trendy clothing or a Hydro Flask just because they want to, people associate them as trying to be a ‘VSCO girl,’ even if they had the item before it was part of being a ‘VSCO girl,’” Frommer said.

Faculty

Fitness Center Director Kevin Valluzzi’s TikTok account, which he opened as a joke with his kids, proves that the app can be for all ages, from tweens to parents.

Valluzzi noticed his son and daughter making TikTok videos while they were on summer vacation and made a bet with them that he could make a video that would go viral, he said.

Though Valluzzi is no longer active on his account, the video he made for the bet got 450,000 views and almost 50,000 likes. “My daughter was not happy!” he said.

Beyond TikTok, Valluzzi’s only social media presence is a Facebook business account that helps him with his online fitness training business of 10 years, he said.

TikTok was a one-time thing for Valluzzi, he said. “It was fun while I was on vacation with my kids, but that was it,” he said.

Since Valluzzi is a parent and much older than the students who are TikTok users, he has a different perspective on social media apps. “I’m always first thinking of safety and making sure my kids aren’t giving out personal information and that sort of thing,” he said.

Valluzzi also understands that the app can turn into a “time waster” like many other social media platforms.

Although Valluzzi no longer uses TikTok, he understands why children enjoy using it so much. “My daughter was showing me that there are all kinds of dances and routines that people do,” he said. “It seems like a way for kids to be creative and do things out of their comfort zone.”