August 12, 2022

Do TikTok Users Have the Right to Talk About Current Events?

By Tillie Moore 

After being released in 2016, TikTok has changed the face of social media. Short videos that took limited time can go viral, while other videos that took effort and cost money can flop. Scalability is remarkable and oftentimes unintentional.

TikTok is a platform for pop culture to reach mass audiences quickly. When aimlessly scrolling through the ‘For You Page’, two serious and current issues have become highly publicized on this app. TikTok is overrun by the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the significance and complexity of these two events differ, TikTok has become a platform for unqualified people to speak on them due to anonymity and created an easy way to spread false information.

Mixed in with trending sounds and dance videos, videos pertaining to the Depp and Heard trial recur. These videos vary from Depp testifying to zooming in on Heard making faces. No matter what the video is, Heard is being made fun of. The app has popularized a trial that deals with serious topics and has made it into a form of entertainment accessible to anyone. The hashtag #JohnnyDepp has skyrocketed to 10.3b views and #JusticForJohnnyDepp to 5.4b views. Different sources have written articles about Heard’s lawyer being a Depp fan, Heard lying about a concealer she used, and simple moments in court such as Depp drawing on a post-it note.

To acquire TikTok fame, users are acting opportunistically by using other people’s trauma to gain views. Viewers are unaware of the specifics of the trial so misinformation is spreading rampantly. Furthermore, no matter the outcome of the trial, TikTok is sensationalizing an incredibly difficult topic to speak about. Although the general consensus is that Heard defamed Depp, the intense and polarizing reaction on TikTok may scare people away from sharing their own trauma. 

TikTok has also brought a brand new audience, and therefore opinions, to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A simple search on google describes this strange phenomena. As described by The Guardian, “TikTok was ‘just a dancing app’. Then the Ukraine war started.” The article points out a fascinating decision by the White House to brief 30 TikTok stars on the war. 

Tiktok is changing how we consume media in the present time. Some users post informational videos and others post trauma for views. Soldiers and civilians post videos of explosisons and bombs going off. TikTok can be a good source of quick information that reaches larger demographics easily, but it is also a platform of harmful and false information. The BCC describes this issue in the article “Ukraine war: False TikTok videos draw millions of views.”

TikTok has only grown over the past few years and will continue to do so, considering the tumultuous nature of our society. Users can rely on TikTok to be a platform to comment on and receive information on practically any current event or pop culture moment. Oftentimes through anonymity, people can freely express their opinions on matters that I am not sure they have the right to. As these events continue to unfold, and more noteworthy crises take place, I am interested to see how TikTok changes as a source.  

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Photo note: “TikTok” by Solen Feyissa is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

8 thoughts on “Do TikTok Users Have the Right to Talk About Current Events?

  1. Hi Tillie,
    I find your content to be highly informative & also allows me to think deeper into the surface level usage I engage with on Tik Tok. I seem to think it is lighthearted & such, but the information being spread could truly influence someone or their thoughts on the political/sensitive topics such as Ukraine & the Depp trial. An interesting point is made when introducing anonymity as I do think this allows people to feel the freedom to post anything with the idea they won’t have to deal with it, disregarding the fact that others (such as Depp or Heard) will be impacted by content posted. It will be interesting to see if Tik Tok follows the free speech on social media movement or if it starts to tighten up on accounts & posted content.

  2. Hi there Tillie,
    I love your choice of topic as it something my friends and family often discuss. In our modern world, people are lazy and often believe the first thing they hear– even if it is not from a reliable news source. Although Tik Tok continues to grow and therefore the false information does as well. I definitely enjoy Tik Tok and its content, but I never rely on it for news or trust everyone’s opinions on the app. It is important to be able to listen to what people say, but not always believe everything.

  3. Hi Tillie,
    I love that you raised this question, and I think you touch on a lot of important points. Your point of anonymity feels especially relevant for this subject. While people may feel a sense of anonymity, I think that the idea of hiding behind a screen can be very deceiving. One may feel that they aren’t attached to the things they do and say over social media, including on TikTok. In reality, the actions one performs over social media may be even more consequential because they can be traced back to that person, and once the content is out there it can never be taken back. I think it is important to cross-check the information we get from TikTok if it is a place we are choosing to look towards for it. And a piece of this cross-checking is verifying the source of the information to gauge the credibility of the content creator.

  4. This is a great post. It is sad to find that people profit from social media at the expense of others. The level of insensitivity that is displayed by opportunists who monitize every bit of their use of these tools is disturbing. My concern is that any attempt to regulate the use of TikTok will receive a backlash from some members of the public and press freedom fighters. I am not an advocate of stringent measures against social media platforms, but sanitay on these platforms is necessary and should be pursued by the appropriate authorities.

  5. Hi Tillie!
    First and foremost, I want to note your impressive writing skills and ability to include applicable data within the post. Secondly, I found the content to be highly interesting and informative, especially as someone who uses Tik Tok regularly. I appreciate how you mention anonymity in relation to Tik Tok information as it is too common to see a “ghost” account spreading information with no truth behind it. I think a lot of times the truth, if any, in statements made on Tik Tok are exaggerated for likes and follows. It also astonished, and disappointed, me to read about the White House zoom meeting with Tik Tok stars. I hope they at least chose influencers who will utilize the information given for good.

  6. Hi Tillie! This topic was super interesting and is something I’ve thought about often, especially with issues like BLM and Ukraine. During the height of the BLM movement, I remember seeing comments and videos bashing younger TikTok stars like Charli D’Amelio for not saying anything on their platform. However, I was always of the opinion that making TikTokers speak out on issues they aren’t educated on or qualified to talk about does more harm than good because they might spread misleading/incomplete information — this applies to smaller creators as well. Misinformation is especially dangerous on this platform since opinions often spread insanely fast without much critical thought. Great article!

  7. Tillie,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post, mainly because this is a topic that could use more awareness. I found it interesting that the top 30 Tik Tokers met with the White House to get key information on the war with Ukraine. I think that this can be beneficial for their Tik Tok viewers. A lot of people post misinformation and disinformation on this platform because it is easy to do. People need to be more aware that not everything they see on Tik Tok is factual; video creators are good at creating false content, and it is easy to unknowingly spread false information. However, if popular Tik Tok creators are given information to share from credible sources, the platform can be a more reliable way to quickly retrieve news and information.

  8. Hi Tillie!

    I really liked they way emphasized how TikTok has created a space for unreliable sources to go viral and spread misinformation about important social issues. When I am on TikTok, I definitely have a tendency to trust posts more if they have more likes and views, even though that has no real correlation with whether or not the information is credible. Great post!

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