TikTok: Beyond the Frivolous

First it was MySpace (for all the Teenies), then Facebook (only college kids “lived” there). Slowly others joined, including parents and grandparents, the “kids” moved on to other platforms, such as Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. The “place to be” keeps moving and shifting. They seems to be a certain user profile that seems to claim a particular platform, but then others join and make it their own with new forms of communicating.

In a previous blog post, Documenting 2020: Quarantine Time Capsule and more…, I started documenting my venturing out onto this “new to me platform”. Always, of course, with the hat of an educator (how could we use the platform for teaching and learning?), a social media researcher (interested in cultural anthropology), and literacy enthusiast and pioneer (how is reading, writing and communication changing?).

I have started exploring the social media platform TikTok. Obviously there is a lot of eyebrow raising, crazy, incromprehensible-that-someone-would-publish-this kind of content on the platform, but I was able to also see an amazing amount of content, that is incredibly creative! With my hat as teacher and life-long learner, I found crowdsourced content, that shares perspective, normalizing being different, raises awareness, defying stereotypes, encourages creativitygives voice to minoritiesideas, and educates through tutorials and simply sharing random facts and opinions. As I have been scrolling through short video clips on the platform, I am catching glimpses into the lives of others as they are passing the time in their homes during the quarantine, daily routines, , strugglinghaving fun, creating art work, sharing recipes, experimenting with home-cooked meals, being grateful, being scared & worried, being funny, singing, dancing, keeping active, entertaining their children and each other, documenting the emptiness of their usual busy cities. This in itself is an incredible crowdsourced documentation of this time in history.

It has been a little over 2 months since I have set up camp with a Langwitches account on TikTok and a Runwitches account (more about my running and fitness journey as well as videos with my dog Dax). Although I have made a few videos to upload and share (mostly private), I am currently still in the stage of lurking, observing, curating and finding my way around how to (and what it means in terms of networking) save, like, favorite, etc. As when you enter a new country and language and need to figure out etiquette, custom, routines, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, etc. there is a period of observation: How are others behaving? How are others communicating? It takes a while when you start a new job or go to a party, where you don’t know anyone, to learn the culture of how people interact with each other. What is acceptable? What is not? Who will hear/read/watch me when I say something?

I am not denying the fact that there is plenty of content on TikTok that is NOT educational, inaccurate, not appropriate, frivolous, etc., but for my purpose of looking for teaching and learning and new forms of literacy, I choose to filter, evaluate, connect, and select what seems valuable and worth it.

In short, TikTok is based on short videos (15 -60 second in length) clips the user uploads.

  • There is a lot of lip-synching to popular songs or conversations (which in the beginning did not make any sense to me, but now am thrilled with the creativity I am finding).
  • A lot of people (even animals) are dancing to music snippets or “ear worm” melodies (there seems to be an “addiction” to participating in these dance challenges as users are re-creating the choreography with their own touch/personality/version/twist).
  • Videos are range from hilarious and funny to heartbreakingly sad and everything in between (it reminds me a little bit of the TV Show “American Funniest Home Videos”, which first gave us an insight into every day people’s lives in 1989)
  • There are many filters for augmented reality and video editing opportunities to be creative. (the tech-nerd in me wants o figure out how to re-create some videos)
  • There is the option of creating a “Duet”, a split screen with a pre-existing video from another user next to the one we are recording to imitate, react, comment side by side (an incredible way of compare/contrast, annotate, comment, show a reaction, give feedback, etc.)

I really liked the following summary of TikTok too to explain what the platform is about.

TikTok takes the fun of Karaoke to short videos you make yourself, expanding it to comedy, dance, curiosities, gags, funny life moments, animal tricks, all with a focus on cheeky creativity. It’s the digital version of the games you play at home, the gags you pulled in college, the songs you sing in your car, the dances you practice with friends, and practical jokes you deploy on good friends, all backed by snippets of catchy songs past and present.

Jeffrey Tucker from the American Institute for Economic Research https://www.aier.org/article/what-brilliant-tiktok-reveals-about-human-creativity/

Here is a summary of areas I am intrigued with on TikTok and I want to explore further:

New Forms of Communicating

It is obvious that users upload video clips for an audience in order to communicate “something”. It is a mix of confession style videos we have been used to from reality TV, dance and singing audition shows, and YouTube video clips.

What is interesting, is that the power of communication and connections with other users, lies in the aspect of a new version or twist to a previously used dance, song or spoken words. One video clip on its own, does not seem to be able to get the attention or audience as if being “part of a whole” with all different types of variations and interpretations.

I am surprised with the overwhelming sense of directness and honesty, many users share very personal and intimate moments of their lives and experiences they had (Re-thinking of our notion of privacy… again). It seems to be a way to process their experience and deal with whatever happened to them. In sharing they seem to gain connectedness with others who can identify and find support. At the same time, sharing allows for overcoming of old taboos. The more a taboo is talked about, the more it will become main stream, acceptable to be discussed, acceptable to consider revising long held beliefs.

In the United States, we are currently not only experiencing changes due to COVID19, but we are also in the middle of getting over the taboo of addressing racism, white privilege, and other issues that have been swept under the carpet for way too long. TikTok has been providing an interesting platform to share/ communicate points of view and realities of people who had no voice or others have not been able to share/lend their support.


Expected protests in our area tonight and we will show support. #blm #blacklivesmatter #justice #protest #fyp

? original sound – carneyval_

Reaction videos seem to be trend on TikTok. Using the Split Screen (Duet), users record their reaction as they are watching another video clip. Reactions (verbal and non-verbal are also a form of communication)

Check out the “older” user below, explaining Generation X place on TikTok

Or check out the teacher below sharing his thoughts around the CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines for classrooms, once schools are opened post-COVID19. He is using a the original sound – gerrybrooksprin to get his point across nicely.

It amazes me how users are using the “musically linked” video clips and are creatively tweaking them to communicate and express their own ideas, thoughts, opinions, perspectives, or thinking. Check out this dad of a young daughter, who found a way to share how he feels about the Disney Princesses. Or check out this young man, who is taking his job search to another level to connect with a network that potentially can help him find his dream job.

New Forms of Reading and Writing

As I am hyperaware of new forms of reading and writing, I am fascinated by how the flow and navigation on TikTok is challenging traditional forms of reading and writing.
Check out the following posts to read about some of my general observations around New Forms: Hyperlinked, Hashtagged and Lateral Reading and 5 Opportunities to Amplify Your Writing

  • In TikTok, you watch a video that repeats itself until you swipe up to watch (read) the next video in your feed -> vertical reading.
  • The more you read/watch, search, swipe, like, favorite, the more TikTik learns about you and your preferences –> algorithm reading
  • When you would like to watch/read another video from the same user, you swipe to the left to see the user’s video uploads –> horizontal reading
  • Most videos will have a #hashtag in the description, which allows you to continue watching other videos that have the same hashtag included –> hashtagged reading
  • The videos have a song or original audio attached. By clicking on the audio, you will continue to the feed with other videos who use the same audio –> not even sure what I am supposed to call this new form of reading… audiotagged reading(?)
  • Using a particular hashtag will allow your video to take its place in a crowdsourced hashtagged reading feed
  • The ability to add text to the uploaded video offers a new form of annotexting
  • Crowdsourced writing involves the ability to add/contribute additional value/perspective/creativity/variation to “re-used” words/song/conversation

Documenting Our World

As I am seemingly “waisting” time scrolling thorough my TikTok feed, I have the feeling I am watching a documentary of our world in the year 2020. The documentary has a different format than the one we are used to (a traditional one we might watch on the Discovery Channel). Millions of users are creating content to capture, annotate, explain, share their piece of reality, dreams, opinions, interpretations, or unique experiences. Users are sharing everyday moments of their lives. As we swipe up, down, left or right and click on hashtags or music links, we are:

Individual small video snippets are puzzle pieces to a larger picture of our world. Users are collaboratively capturing their realities, opinions, experiences, creativity, interpretations, etc.

I have always been intrigued with documenting OVER TIME, so it comes to no surprise that I fell in love with the Meme on TikTok to re-create an old photograph to the tune of “I’m just a kid” by Simple Plan to show passage of time.

Breaking Down Stereotypes

Stereotypes are defined as

something conforming to a fixed or general pattern
especially a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I have seen wonderful examples of TikToks that contribute to breaking down many different stereotypes. In 15 seconds, these clips shed light on long held beliefs due to ignorance, misinformation, or taboos. Users have a platform to make stereotypes visible, debunk them and help break them down.


#duet with @574whitegirl #BLM #Explanations @brittanyrenee1989 @ch0zi @torifranco0 #??????

? original sound – 574whitegirl


Good teachers don’t just simply cover and pass on content and knowledge, but they connect with their students and teach in ways how their students learn. That includes to meet our students “where they are at”. Well, literally, our students are on TikTok. Many teachers are meeting them there to engage, motivate and support them. These teachers are being creative, innovative and risk takers in experimenting and finding new forms of teaching.

As with everything that a teacher chooses to capture and make shareable via social networking, other educators and learners can benefit from them. My 8 year old granddaughter has been checking out and doing science experiments from TikTok that intrigued her.

Just as with Run & Rant Video Clips, TikTok gives teachers (or anyone who likes to share their thoughts, advice, ideas) a platform to record, host and disseminate.

Do you have some hidden (or open) talent? TikTok most likely has an audience who wants to learn from you. It’s a matter of taking that step and putting yourself and your expertise out there for others to find you.

Just a fun thing to try out…
Tips from a Photographer

Check out some “teachers” (from young to old) who are sharing their knowledge with others.

Other teachers on TikTok:

Memes & Challenges

A meme is an image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied and then tweaked with a slight variation. Users take an original, imitate and add their own interpretation, humor, style, story, fashion, and ideas to it.

There are musical (singing/dancing/etc) challenges, as well as physical activity (check out this Lacrosse Stick Trick) and even challenges for your dog available on TikTok (among many others) … Many are using the Duet feature to dance side by side with others. As you are browsing, you can favorite challenges and save for later to try them out yourself. You can also try to be a trend-, challenge setter yourself and start your own challenge for others to imitate, tweak, add on and to make it go viral.

Strength Training Challenge
Toilet Paper Dog Jumping Challenge


Any kind of storytelling has been fascinating to me for as long as I can remember. Once technology caught up and was available to the “common person”, beyond Hollywood Film Studios, newspapers, book publishers, etc., nothing can/needs to stop us to be able to tell our stories and share them. I am constantly on the look out for new tools, platforms and possibilities for Ideas to Amplify Forms of Digital Storytelling. TikTok, from my experience so far has the ability to contribute to our ever growing toolbox of storytelling.

  • Trough the curation of individual uploads and the user’s feed, the “teller” can create their “story” in order of upload or by labeling them Part 1, Part 2, etc..
  • Through unique hashtags that only the storyteller uses, he/she can create also a storyline for readers/watchers who follow that unique hashtag.
  • When a common hashtag is used, the storyteller can contribute to a story created collaboratively by anyone who chooses to use that hashtag.
  • A song/audio recording also can be the connecting piece for collaborative story contributions for anyone using the same audio for their video.

Check some of these stories out:

What stories can be found on TikTok? (It would probably be easier to create a list of what type of story can NOT BE FOUND on TikTok?) Here are a few that I ran across:

Creativity & Innovation

Beyond the video editing creativity (How did they do that?), TikTok, as a platform, is providing a venue for much creativity and innovation.

Being creative, involves a person’s imagination or having original ideas. Being innovative has everything to do with pushing oneself to experiment with new methods, that challenge and advance how things have always been done before and are original in nature.

The platform and its users seem to be

  • evolving into an incredible space for and creators of new forms of reading & writing, communicating, teaching, learning, storytelling, documenting and sharing our world (as I tried to make visible in this blog post)
  • challenging themselves to compete, egg on and amplify their creativity
  • place emphasis on video creation… not only consumption…
  • place emphasis on “keeping it real” with the videos they share
  • a tool that is playing a “significant role facilitating communication and interaction among participants of political movements and protests in 2020 (just as Facebook and Twitter played a role in the Arab Spring around 10 years ago)

I know, I have probably not even scratched the surface of what TikTok is and what it is capable of with its creative and innovative users. Remember, I have only been testing the waters over the last few weeks. This blog post is capturing where I am in my exploration with this social media platform in this moment in time. I hope, I have intrigued you enough to give it a try, sign up and start exploring it with your own ideas and filters and see how YOU can be creative and innovative with such a tool in whatever you do.

Other interesting articles and thoughts about TikTok