Like many, I have a complex relationship with social media. I enjoyed Facebook in my teens and twenties, loving it for the memes and as a way to chat with mates. Snapchat was fun but faded quickly. Twitter, on the other hand, was the social media platform that really grabbed me. I loved learning about fascinating topics and research, as well as directly interacting with psychologists. I credit a significant portion of my development as a psychologist (especially with regards to methodology) to Twitter1. But the more I’ve used social media, the more aware I’ve become of the negatives. There are endless jeremiads about social media, for example Haidt (2022), and I am sympathetic to some of their arguments. But this isn’t a blog post analysing social media2. This is about why I started a TikTok account.
Social media and me
I hate TikTok. More specifically, I hate the user experience. It is extremely annoying to be presented random garbage I don’t want. To overcome this the way TikTok would like, I need to use it more. I need to give it more data, so the algorithms can develop an understanding of my tastes. This will allow the app to feed me more of what it believes interests me. But I am opposed to that on principle because I don’t want them harvesting my data to sell to advertisers and beyond (Zuboff, 2019). The obvious answer is to therefore delete the app and not waste my time on it. Yet here I am, putting time into something I actively dislike. Why not just stick to the social media platforms I at least tolerate?
I deleted my Facebook account because of the extractive data policies (Lancaster, 2017) and the fact it was becoming boring. I never set up an Instagram account because it did not interest me. Social media for me was primarily a way to learn and share information. Twitter and Facebook were the best for that so they have stuck around the longest, with my Twitter account still remaining active. But as I was using Twitter, I slowly realised: I was only interacting with other psychologists. Initially research psychologists, and then educational psychologists (EPs) as I started my EP career, but psychologists none the less. I had almost no interaction with other professionals I work with, such as teachers, and certainly not with parents or children and young people (CYP). I had created a bubble. How could I hope to have an impact with those I worked with via social media if my sphere never overlapped with theirs?
Tick tock on the clock
By the end of the second quarter in 2022, TikTok had over 1.4 billion monthly active users (Iqbal, 2022). Of those users, 73% of were aged 18-34 years-old (Statista, 2022). The average amount of time spent on the platform each day was 52 minutes, with younger users typically engaging for longer (Ruby, 2022). This means there is an enormous number of young people who use TikTok. A lot of the information they consume on TikTok is incorrect, with a significant portion of it being downright harmful (Brewster, Arvanitis, Pavilonis, & Wang, 2022). This matches my experience with the limited number of videos I’ve seen, for example using optical illusions to test for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This presents an opportunity for me to try and have a positive impact, especially given the paucity of EPs on the platform. If I can directly share knowledge I’ve acquired through working as an EP, I can hopefully make a tiny difference.
Combating the avalanche of bad information on TikTok is hopeless. I’d have better luck fighting the tide with a broken bucket. I am under no illusion that I am going to fix the misinformation sea of TikTok, or even if it can be. But I hope that by sharing useful information, I can help them understand a psychological concept or give clarity to the issues many people face.
My TikTok account: https://tiktok.com/@drpaddy_ep
My Spanish TikTok account: https://www.tiktok.com/@drpaddy_ep_es
Brewster, J., Arvanitis, L., Pavilonis, V., & Wang, M. (2022). Beware the ‘New Google:’ TikTok’s Search Engine Pumps Toxic Misinformation To Its Young Users. Newsguard. https://www.newsguardtech.com/misinformation-monitor/september-2022/
Haidt, J. (2022) Why the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid, The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369/ (Accessed: December 17, 2022).
Iqbal, M. (2022, May 10). TikTok Revenue and Usage Statistics (2021). Business of Apps. https://www.businessofapps.com/data/tik-tok-statistics/
Lancaster, J. (2017, August 17). You Are the Product [Review of You Are the Product]. London Review of Books. https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v39/n16/john-lanchester/you-are-the-product
Ruby, D. (2022, June 10). TikTok User Statistics (2022): How many TikTok Users Are There. Demandsage. https://www.demandsage.com/tiktok-user-statistics/
Statista. (2022). Global TikTok user age and gender distribution 2022. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1299771/tiktok-global-user-age-distribution/
Tullett, A., Inbar, Y., & Inzlicht, M. (2022, June 22). Episode 89: What’s Wrong with Social Media? https://fireside.fm/episode/Ah1OZyuo+Z6E3YEvx
Zuboff, S. (2019). AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM : the fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. Public Affairs.
- I literally shout out this community in my doctoral thesis.
- For an excellent overview of the research, I recommend this episode of the podcast ‘Two Psychologists Four Beers’.
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