TikTok Serves as an Outlet By means of COVID-19 ‹ Pepperdine Graphic

Pitman sisters Hasley (left), Hope (center) and Halle (right) smile at Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu in June. Hasley Pitman, a 1L at Caruso School of Law, said learning TikTok dances together resulted in the sisters growing and connecting.

Photos courtesy Hasley Pitman

After COVID-19 sent her back to Jacksonville, Florida, 23-year-old Hasley Pitman – a first year or 1 year at the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law – went viral on TikTok with her two teenage sisters Hope and Halle.

Hasley Pitman, who is stuck at home together, said her mom suggested doing TikToks because it would be fun. The Pitman sisters now have 2.3 million followers with their trendy dance videos. Her most watched TikTok with nearly 45 million views is a sponsored video for the nail polish company Essie.

When COVID-19 left the world at home, people were looking for a way to pass the time. Like the Pitman sisters, they turned to TikTok for community and entertainment as the app allowed people to be creative and connect with others.

TikTok was launched in 2016 but has grown in popularity over the past year. In September there was a 75% increase in TikTok users in the US since early 2020, according to a Forbes article.

“It was really like that diamond in the rough when the world was really struggling,” said Hasley Pitman.

During the quarantine, some resorted to TikTok for trends, recipes, or the chance to go viral. However, like many other social media apps, there are downsides, including negative comments and addiction.

The spread of TikTok

In 2020, TikTok’s US user growth was over 85%. According to the European Journal of Cultural Studies in July 2020, TikTok now has over 800 million users worldwide. A Pepp Post poll of 63 college students in March that biased women found that 90% liked TikTok and nearly 60% said it was the social media app they use the most.

Public Relations Assistant Professor Klive Oh said he was putting TikTok’s growth over the past year to its familiar yet new use of video, people having more free time at home, and an increase in influencers on the app.

“While it was unfortunate that we faced COVID for most of 2020, it meant people were at home with nothing to do to pass time and enjoy themselves,” Oh said. “TikTok was a great tool for doing this because at home you can still create content that is impressive, that catches on, and that could go viral.”

Oh said the brevity of the TikTok videos increases the potential for someone to go viral. The survey found that over 20% of students’ favorite things to do on the app had a 15-60 second time limit on video, while over 19% of students said it was their least preferred thing to do.

While Twitter has the same potential for influencers to go viral, Oh said TikTok is more mainstream and cultures are different.

“What they did was allow more collaboration between and with influencers and larger organizations like corporations or when there were big events and the like,” Oh said.

The app’s algorithm is in control of the viral videos, making it even more popular and getting more views.

TikTok creators in the pandemic

When COVID-19 hit, Allie Coates, a junior integrated marketing communications officer, said she spent more time using the app during the quarantine.

“Quarantine happened and it was a bit of a full-fledged obsession for me,” Coates said. “It wasn’t busy and it felt like a way to create content that was interesting, quick to do, and didn’t require a lot of thought.”

Coates said her favorite thing about TikTok is that, compared to other social media platforms, TikTok gives everyone an equal chance to go viral because the algorithm can place its content on any page.

Harleen Kaur Bal, a freshman biology student, downloaded TikTok at the start of COVID-19 because she said she was bored and the app was popular. Bal publishes TikTok videos about their Punjabi culture. Her first viral video with over 28,000 views was a comedic video about the Farmers’ Protest in India.

“I never thought I’d get or download TikTok,” said Bal. “In fact, I was almost against it and I joke with my family or friends who had it that it was a waste of their time.”

Maddi Winter, a junior screen arts major, first went viral in 2016 after posting a video with her bunny in her basement that received over 365,000 views.

Since then, Winter has used Adobe After Effects to create animated dance videos that have received over 2 million views. She learned this herself through YouTube tutorials. She said she is always interested in becoming an influencer and currently has over 4 million followers on TikTok.

“The amount of support and things I get from my comments every day is a big reason I stayed like this [TikTok] for five years, ”said Winter.

COVID-19 allowed her to create more content because she said she was stuck in her apartment. Winter said that it usually takes her about 30 hours to edit her videos, but one of her most recent videos, which has over 24 million views, took her over 60 hours to edit.

Most recently, Winter worked with Kevin Chamberlin, who played Bertram on the Disney Channel show “Jessie”. When Chamberlin first came to TikTok, Winter said she commented on his video without thinking. But a month later he had given her an idea to work together. They made two animated dance videos: one with over 2 million views of the show’s theme song on Winter’s account and one with over 3 million views on Chamberlin’s account.

“Oh my god, it was so unreal,” said Winter. “The kind of people you watch as a kid are never expected to see them in real life.”

TikTok trends

As some student developers went viral during the pandemic, many new trends in the app also went viral and known as “quarantine trends”.

At home, many users created challenges or trends, and some students participated in those trends. This included preparing foods and drinks such as whipped coffee, baked feta cheese noodles, and cloud cake. Some users choreographed dance videos to songs like “Blinding Lights” and “Toosie Slide”. Coates said she tried the cloud cake but wasn’t a fan of it, and Winter said she did the “Supalonely” dance last year.

The survey found that more than 64% of students participated in some trends.

Spread of toxicity in the app and on TikTok Addiction

While the app has many positive benefits, there are also negative ones as most of the developers receive hateful comments from other users.

“It’s a way of making younger kids feel mean when they aren’t,” Winter said.

Hope Pitman said she likes that TikTok is diverse and gives everyone the opportunity to build a platform. However, she said that sometimes people are quick to make negative comments or write hard things on other people’s posts.

“I think people sometimes have to take a step back to say, ‘Wait, when I comment on something, it actually goes to that person, not just other people,” said Hope Pitman.

Some viewers are addicted to the app too. When influencers don’t post videos every day, some TikTok users inundate their comments asking why they didn’t post recently. Halle Pitman said it was important for her and her sisters to take a break from social media at times and hopes others will understand.

“It’s important not always to be on social media for your mental and physical health,” said Halle Pitman.

She said she and her sisters care about their followers, but sometimes they have to take a step back.

The future of TikTok and its creators

As the app continues to grow, Hasley Pitman said they’ll be continuing TikTok for the time being. She said that hopefully she will move to Los Angeles by the end of summer and if they all move to Los Angeles in the future they will continue this TikTok journey together in the future.

Halle Pitman (left), Hope Pitman (right), and Hasley Pitman (back) create a dance video for TikTok in their Jacksonville, Florida backyard in April 2020. Hasley Pitman said she never thought she would have this amazing following and the opportunity to do it with her sisters.

Bal and Coates see themselves continuing to create content in the near future.

Oh said he has mixed feelings about whether the app will keep growing with the controversy behind it, but for now it will continue to be popular.

“People get tired pretty quickly these days,” said Oh. “I think TikTok has had success with it [it] It has evolved from games and fun to educational themes. “

Great Books Associate Professor Tuan Hoang publishes dance and other videos on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. While Hoang doesn’t use TikTok, he said his own dance made him add a fun assignment to his great books and Humanities 111 classes that include TikTok. Students have a variety of options to choose from, and some students have done TikToks.

With the positive and negative impact of TikTok, students have said they want their audience to be entertained.

“I think it’s just crazy to see the impact we can have,” said Hasley Pitman. “And I think that’s why we try to be so positive and just put smiles on people’s faces because we have an impact and if we can have a positive impact I think that’s even better.”


Contact Tanya Yarian on Twitter: @tanya_yarian or email: tanya.yarian@pepperdine.edu

Allie Coates COVID-19 Halle Pitman Harleen Kaur Bal Hasley Pitman Hope Pitman Klive Oh Maddi Winter Pepperdine Graphic Media Social Media Tanya Yarian The Pitman Sisters TikTok Tuan Hoang

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