The ticking time bomb TikTok: The fledgling social media app is constantly feeding us junk food news


We’ve seen them all: teenagers and young adults doing synchro dancing in a grocery store, park, mall or coffee shop. You might have heard them duet sea shanties, or maybe you’ve been told about the crowd-pleasing musical based on the 2007 Pixar film “Ratatouille.” All of these terribly essential activities have one thing, or more precisely an app, in common: TikTok, where apparently everyone can cook!

TikTok is basically Twitter about street crack. According to a Forbes interview with University of Southern California professor Julie Albright, TikTok has “adopted the same principles that made gaming addictive.” A digital drug for anyone with a phone, and especially young people, the TikTok app uses random reinforcement – similar to a slot machine on the Las Vegas Strip – to cycle users. It changed the way Americans tell and see stories, interact with others, and even receive news and information. His influence borders on the obscene. TikTok became part of the new normal last year, but instead of helping us heal, it worked as a cure for the new normal — a rather ineffective cure from an unqualified source during the pandemic.

TikTok feeds Americans non-stop Junk Food News and infotainment, reality TV. “Junk Food News” is a term, originally coined by Project Censored founder Carl Jensen, to identify a category of frivolous or inconsequential news stories that receive substantial coverage by corporate media, thereby distracting the public. news of other more important stories. Content appearing on TikTok fits Jensen’s Junk Food News descriptor perfectly, as the app has become so popular that many of its short videos regularly appear in corporate media, distracting Americans from crucial independent investigative reporting. .

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Many people’s first exposure to the app may have been through Nathan Apodaca and his Ocean Spray TikTok post, vibrating to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, riding NFTs (non-fungible tokens) to block the authenticity of the channel. (if anyone understands what this means). Apodaca’s clip caught the eye of a TV host who was delighted to “sit down and tap into the mind of Nathan Apodaca, also known as ‘Dogg Face'”. It also brought him a large wad of cash.

Those who were still unaware of TikTok, even at the advent of these cultural milestones, most certainly became aware of its existence due to the glorious misadventures of Tessica Brown, also known as the “Gorilla Glue Girl”. . Her story took the internet, tabloids and news cycles by storm after she repeatedly posted on TikTok in the early months of 2021 that it had been a ‘bad, bad, bad idea’ for her to use. Gorilla Glue to set her hairstyle when she ran out of regular hairspray. His elated audience collectively wondered, how could anyone ever make that mistake in the first place? The meme has become a well-known source of humor, as evidenced by a Saturday Night Live skit titled “Gorilla Glue.” For many, this came across as another example of fun in humiliating someone else. The internet is full of videos of the so-called “failure” genre, including the bevy of epic fails featured on FailArmy, Newsflare, and Funny Vines, sites and YouTube channels that all feature their own fails of the week. Even ESPN’s SportsCenter has a “Not Top 10” segment, which pokes fun at the athletes’ misadventures caught on film. There is no shortage of “entertainment” that comes at the expense of the misfortunes of others.

The specific term for this phenomenon is “humilitainment,” a word coined by media scholars Brad Waite and Sara Booker in 2005 to refer to entertainment that capitalizes on someone else’s humiliation. This term is often used in conjunction with “schadenfreude”, a German compound word that translates to “un-joy” and describes finding joy in the pain of others. Humilitainment is often listed as Junk Food News. It’s become a common theme on reality TV shows over the years, on shows like Survivor, Big Brother, 16 and Pregnant, 90 Day Fiancé, and Jersey Shore, to name a few. Even decades-old TV shows dating back to Candid Camera and America’s Funniest Home Videos have featured “failures” that have viewers literally laughing at the pain or misfortune of a complete stranger.

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From screen to screen, it’s not just television that humiliates us, but also our phones and tablets. Viral videos of people failing trends, cutting their hair badly at home, or having fashion faux pas in public hit the internet and our phones almost as soon as videos could be downloaded and watched. This trend certainly hasn’t stopped and continues to creep into our media feeds. TikTok is just the latest vehicle for consumers to binge on junk food news, infotainment, and humility. But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of TikTok is its algorithm: the more time a user spends on the app, the more data the algorithm collects. For the first few uses of the app, the algorithm will present the most popular and trending videos to the user, but eventually, after tracking the user’s viewing habits, it will funnel the newcomer deeper into the app. application to what the program assumes the consumer enjoys. Eventually, the user will only be recommended to very specific creators or videos that match the individual’s established interests.

In this way, TikTok looks a lot like corporate press. TikTok’s algorithm divides viewers into specific groups, much like corporate media outlets like Fox News and CNN divide and conquer audiences. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, there are consistent ideological divides among groups of Americans based on where they go to get information about what’s going on in the world. In other words, the Gorilla Glue story wasn’t the only one people got stuck with: Many Americans also like to get stuck in particular news outlets, where they can tune into their favorite sources to fuel their biases of political confirmation.

This market-driven divide impacts information that travels among different demographics in society, which in turn is reflected in social media, creating an echo chamber of misinformed people and often driving traffic. mass of half-truths and misinformation. In many cases, one person’s (or niche group’s) truth is another’s fiction, yet another way Tik-Tok’s algorithm produces results similar to those of the press. ‘business. As with the topics of talk shows, reality TV, or sensationalist reporting, most TikTokers who produce content are average individuals who gain notoriety for dubious reasons, which can then be further exploited by the commercial press. for the hearings. And just like Fox News, MSNBC or CNN, TikTok specially tailors its information to fit the narrative of a specific audience, and corporate media seems to have developed a symbiotic relationship with the app. So not only do TikTok videos now count as news, but corporate news and TikTok videos, whether accurate or not, have adapted to stick with an audience eager to see their beliefs reinforced. In this regard, TikTok and corporate media are a match made in Junk Food News heaven. What could go wrong?

As Americans stuck on Gorilla Glue Girl online, corporate media spread the same stories, reinforcing information silos and creating filter bubbles as monetized coping mechanisms for chaotic and uncertain times. These Junk Food News stories kept Americans entertained as millions literally starved to death across the world. Democracy Now!, quoting David Beasley of the World Food Programme, reported that Yemen, Ethiopia and other impoverished, war-torn countries “are headed for ‘the greatest famine in modern history’, and many parts of [these countries] feeling like ‘hell on earth’ after years of food shortages and destruction caused by the US-backed, Saudi-led war.”

Why hasn’t this story appeared in the forefront of corporate press, or on TikTok videos? It’s probably because Americans would rather bask in the glory of someone’s humility than acknowledge global humanitarian issues. While millions of TikTok users post bits of their daily lives on an entertainment app, the daily reality of food shortages and starvation goes unreported. But then again, why would people want their media coverage focused on citizenship when it could be viral and funny, especially when it comes at someone else’s expense?

Adapted from Project Censored’s State of the Free Press 2022, edited by Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff.

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