On TikTok, better get the stopwatches ticking

August 21, 2022 - 07:59
On a whim, I asked a few friends if they’d ever followed a TikTok trend and what their experience was.


Illustration by Trịnh Lập

 By An Phương


On a whim, I asked a few friends if they’d ever followed a TikTok trend and what their experience was.

An overwhelming majority of the friends, aged 20 to 33, said they’d been there, done that. And they were split about half and half about the experience – it was fun for one half and not so for the other.

While the large percentage of people who did follow a TikTok trend was somewhat of a surprise, a particular one was 33-year-old Trang Lê, as conventional as they come, answering in the affirmative. 

“I chose a fitness trend where we had to carry out various types of core planks. It was fun!” she said.

For me, her answer stressed the role this short-form video app was playing in the daily lives of millions.

While a lot of the TikTok videos involve lip-syncing, dancing and cooking, there are some that perform “feats” that are treated like a dare, and this is where things cease to be harmless fun and things can get dicey.

Similar to Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, TikTok is a social media platform with its own pros and cons. What is undeniable is that it has great impact on younger generations and the not so young as well.

Recently, several TikTok trends triggered chaos and have been considered detrimental to society in general. For instance the trend that had TikTokers pulling the window screen during takeoff to record time-lapse of the sky the entire journey.

“I was extremely annoyed when the video, created by one of the most famous Vietnamese TikTokers, was out! Imagine how many people would replicate this without understanding flight safety,” Trang said.

There was no need to imagine. Many TikTok users did indeed latch on to this “trend”, attracting warnings and criticism from other passengers as well as newspaper readers.

Other videos that take place in an airport show someone dancing next to a running airplane and another sitting on a luggage conveyor belt. Despite the immediate barrage of criticism that such videos have attracted, there have been emulators, too.

“Similar videos come right after (the trendsetter). There are some young people who seem to like to express themselves in such ways. This is probably the consequence of living in a virtual reality most of the time,” said one of my friends, Tuấn Trần, 29.

“Such things cannot be considered ignorance. They are crimes. Even a child knows not to go on the luggage conveyor belt to play! It is important that relevant authorities strictly handle such violations so that they are not repeated.”

I agree with Tuấn after reading comments under such videos. Many TikTok users perceive such acts as entertaining and harmless.

“Trends can be almost everything: a dance move, a silly action or something dangerous that can have global ramifications,” Tuấn said.

He said he was glad that the time-lapse sky shoot, dancing next to a taxiing airplane and sitting on the luggage conveyor belt stunts were stopped before someone got hurt.

He also brought up another instance of TikTok disruption when one user repeatedly visited eateries and asked for VNĐ5,000 worth of food each time, inconveniencing and disturbing the businesses.

“This silly action may be fun to watch but not pleasant at all to those featured in the video,” Tuấn said.

Ngọc Trần, 24, told me that recent TikTok-related controversies evoked memories of days when Harlem Shake and Kiki Challenge were ‘a thing’.

“I don’t think these dangerous trends will stop, with or without TikTok. But with TikTok, five minutes can turn into 45 minutes very quickly and imagine how much content one would go through in that short amount of time,” Ngọc said, adding that a content filter wouldn’t help much.

Even though TikTok has “strict community guidelines”, the ease with which content can be produced and uploaded by everyone with a mobile phone makes it hard to completely prevent potentially toxic videos.

Dr Lương Thế Hà, a lecturer in Marketing at Văn Lang University, said balancing real life (offline) and life on social networks (online) had become a widely discussed topic.

Among the popular social networks, TikTok had recorded the fastest user growth, mainly young and very young users. 

"This demographic tends to 'thirst' for information and quickly accept strange trends as long as they are brief, sensational and convenient, with little thought given to their ethical implications," Hà said.

For now, it is up to relevant authorities to take action when detrimental trends come up and for social media users to be more selective about the content they consume.

TikTok is like any other social media platform – good in moderation and detrimental with overuse that extends to addiction.

Therefore, it would be wise to strictly limit the time we spend every day on TikTok and other social media platforms, lest we become junkies cut off from the real world. VNS