The social media app TikTok has given some UA students a way to build a virtual community, distract themselves from the stress of living through a pandemic and find comedic relief during tough times.
The 4-year-old app was already a popular way for students to share videos, but the COVID-19 pandemic has turned it into an avenue for entertainment and connection in a time when on-campus interaction is limited.
TikTok app executives reported an uptick in U.S. user growth between October 2019 and June 2020. The number of users in the country grew from fewer than 40 million in October to more than 90 million in June. Watch times when the pandemic began in March 2020 were double those in October 2019, totaling an average of 858 minutes per visitor during March, according to Comscore Media analysts.
Nicholas Mehterian, a junior, enjoys how the TikTok app directs him to content that suits each of his interests, he said. He found a virtual sense of community by interacting with users that share his interests, such as fashion and traveling.
Mehterian’s account has attained over 53,000 followers and 2.5 million likes. His newfound circle of friends has helped him feel comfortable enough to post about his experiences as a college student and part of the LGBTQ community, he said.
“I noticed my account started to become more popular when I started to post what I wanted to post, and less what I thought people would want to see,” Mehterian said. “It’s been an overwhelmingly positive situation and I’m glad to make content that makes people happy.”
Mehterian said TikTok also helped him manage his mental health this past year, because it has provided him with a resource for entertainment when he needed a distraction.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised rates of mental health struggles among U.S. residents as they experience job loss, social isolation and economic stress. A survey of U.S. adults conducted June 24-30th found that 40.9% of respondents had experienced at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition related to the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Margaret Rutherford, a Fayetteville psychologist, said she thinks the increased incidence of anxiety and depression among U.S. adults stems from a lost sense of control in people’s lives. Investing energy in projects or finding ways to laugh can help people gain some control back, she said.
“You have to find people you can laugh with,” Rutherford said. “You have to find people who are being creative.”
Emma Kate Dillon, a senior, posted a TikTok featuring comical videos of her dad in November that received over 2.2 million views. The video was featured on the front page of Reddit twice, and on a famous Instagram page, and Dillon was shocked at how far it traveled, she said.
Her followers have expressed interest in seeing more videos of her dad, but Dillon doubts she will continue to feature him in future content, she said.
“The videos I took of him were not planned, which is what made them so funny,” Dillon said. “I don’t think forcing content from him would do well. I also don’t really want the pressure of that.”
Madison Ceola, a junior majoring in chemistry and exercise science, said that her favorite aspect of TikTok is the humor, because she enjoys watching videos that make her laugh.
“I’ve found myself laughing so hard that my abs hurt and tears were streaming down my face,” Ceola said. “Other times, it’s been nice to get a chuckle from a random video that brightens my day.”
Ceola has been able to stay connected with her friends throughout the pandemic by sharing TikToks with them, she said. She has even formed new friendships with other UA students who have appeared on her feed, such as Meghan Smith, a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering.
Smith and Ceola bonded after they each began commenting on each other’s videos related to their STEM majors, which Smith said she found goofy and relatable.
However, the depths of TikTok that suck users in for hours can distract students from schoolwork. Ceola said she often has to remind herself to log off and focus on her homework.
Back in March and April, at the beginning of the pandemic, Dillon began to spend more time on the app. Now that school has started, she watches TikToks less, but she uses the app every night before she goes to sleep to help her unwind.
Spending up to two hours a day on TikTok, Smith said she thinks it has definitely been a good distraction for her during the pandemic.
“I think it’s easy to feel alone during a pandemic, and TikTok has created an easy and entertaining way for keeping everyone connected and finding new connections,” Smith said.