Why is TikTok so Addictive?
Over the past year and a half, TikTok has become increasingly popular and its use has grown exponentially among teenagers. More than 90% of TikTok users access the app on a daily basis, which suggests that people are becoming at least somewhat dependent on it. TikTok can be very relaxing, and it’s easy to use, but why are people finding themselves spending more and more time on the app each and every day?
TikTok uses an algorithm, so it knows which videos are of interest to which users and it targets content for each one. I might see a TikTok related to NFL teams, but my sister might see videos about singers. The app also offers catchy remixes of popular songs, many of which can “coincidentally” also be found on my personal playlist.
Neurological studies have shown that TikTok “provides enough stimulus for the users to exhibit addiction symptoms and a neurological reaction that is consistent with addiction.” Continuous stimuli produce surges of dopamine which, if not restricted, will increase the amount of time users interact with the application daily. In other words, people’s excitement over content on TikTok can trigger a chemical reaction in one’s body, and the app learns to offer users constant doses of that content.
There is another reason that TikTok is addictive. People often strive to gain “clout,” or popularity, by using the app, hoping to go viral or end up on other peoples’ For You Pages. The lure of becoming famous on social media can be hard to resist, and some users see TikTok as a platform which offers a rapid rise to fame. This is partly due to the ease of posting videos and is partly due to the seemingly random way in which posts can go viral. One doesn’t need a large budget or expensive camera equipment to record witty commentary on mundane matters. Anyone with a phone can post videos. Anyone can become an internet sensation. It only takes one video.
Another source of intrigue for older teens is the TikTok Creator Fund, which incentivizes users who are 18 years or older to post videos frequently and rewards them monetarily for the number of views each post gets. This sounds, to some, like a fast track to cash, but there's a catch. The Creator Fund requires users to have at least 10,000 followers, and users can be rejected at any time, for any reason. Obtaining 10,000 followers would require a person to put a significant number of hours into the app. The pursuit of Creator Fund dollars adds to the charm- as well as the addiction. The Creator Fund is a good idea in theory, but in reality, it pays more dividends to TikTok than to a given user.
TikTok offers a rapid-fire barrage of entertainment. Seconds after you open the app, you are bombarded with an endless number of videos. One article I read compared TikTok to a slot machine. Users put coins in, and every now and then, they hit the jackpot. The same is true of scrolling through TikTok videos: every once in a while, there will be a video you find truly enjoyable. That is enough to keep you ‘playing”, again, and again, and again.
With the Coronavirus lockdown, many people found that they had more free time, and TikTok is the perfect recipe for procrastination. It is entertaining to scroll aimlessly through the app, following various “detours”, and it’s certainly more fun than buckling down to work.
Politics have recently become a hot topic on TikTok. Many politicians, from both political parties, have used TikTok to reach voters and bolster their campaigns. Many individual users also use the platform to make bold statements about politics. This is something I would advise against. As soon as you post a position, you will know in seconds who disagrees with you. The internet is not a good place to air differences. Users who aren't old enough to vote often make or share biased and controversial videos; many of them don’t even understand what they are posting!
TikTok, however, is fun, it’s functional, and it can be educational, but it can also be divisive, and it is designed to be addictive. When you’re scrolling through TikTok each day, ask yourself who is really getting the payout.