I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I was late to join the ranks of TikTok’s user base. In fact, for years it would be safe to say I was actively anti-TikTok. I’d been taught by the media and some of my peers that it was meant for children, or at least those younger than me. Despite being a proud member of Gen Z, I’d deemed myself too old-fashioned for the interests of today’s youth.

Perhaps I’m a millennial at heart — I pride myself on the fact that my childhood was full of Vines, and TikTok’s infringement on their cultural niche was upsetting. What was this new video app posing as a knockoff of something so imbued with nostalgia? I wanted nothing to do with it.

Eventually, I caved and downloaded the app due to pestering from some of my friends, and quickly found that my earlier criticisms were not as justified as I had thought. I admit through gritted teeth that I misjudged TikTok without giving it a fair chance.

And I’m glad I did, because my assimilation into TikTok was not immediate. When I first joined the app, my For You Page (the home page where you find recommended content) was full of videos I did not find particularly engaging. All the people dancing were nice, but not interesting enough for me to actively want to watch more; if I did not have peer pressure driving me I might have called it quits right there.

But the more I used the app, the more it began to cater content specifically for me and the harder it was for me to stop scrolling through the seemingly endless hours of content at my fingertips. Gone were the days of dancing videos (mostly) and in their place were funny cats, craft ideas and lots of Hank Green

Now when I open TikTok, every video seems to know exactly what I’m looking for — I’ve found my niche in this digital space, and it is addicting just to see just what the app thinks I will enjoy. I don’t know how it decided I would like ping pong with miscellaneous objects, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve discovered people with similar interests and tastes as me, and I have come to look forward to content from them.

It is truly amazing to me the way the platform can foster community. While at first glance it may seem like utter nonsense, TikTok’s algorithm is complex and developed in a way that the app can become something completely different for everyone who uses it — everyone gets content catered specifically for them.

Sometimes my roommate will show me a video and lament about how the audio used in it is taking over her entire feed, but her showing me will be the first I’ve heard of it. It can be jarring to see how trends that thousands of people are seeing aren’t even reaching my little corner of the Internet.

By dividing its user base into these smaller groups around shared interests, TikTok is able to build community around these specific topics. This may not have seemed like that big of a deal a year ago, but in our current socially-distanced society, this type of community space is invaluable. 

TikTok has become a social outlet for many creators and consumers alike. Given its strength in bringing like-minded people together, it has been a hub over the last few months for coping with real world issues, activism, awareness and of course just plain-old fun. 

In the age of COVID-19, virtual spaces have become more prevalent and relevant in day-to-day life. When many can often be left feeling isolated from those around them, it is important to find new and creative ways to connect and interact with others. When it feels like the rest of the internet is inundated with so much varying content, having a space meant specifically for you is something special.


Daily Arts Writer Hadley Samarco can be reached at hsamarco@umich.edu

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