Something’s changed with TikTok; I know you feel it, too. I used to happily scroll for hours, finding weird new things I never knew I wanted to see and funny videos to send to friends.
But something recently is off.
Let’s start with what deserves most of the blame: the TikTok Shop. When the Shop feature launched this fall, suddenly, my For You feed was flooded with posts of people selling stuff. It was disorienting: Shop posts have an orange label at the bottom, but it looks similar to the filter labels. For the first second or so of a Shop post, I’d be confused as to why this relatively boring video had shown up in my feed.
The emphasis on shop content has two bad effects.
The first is that I’m being presented a lot more low-quality videos that I’m not particularly interested in. I’d want to see films of drains being unclogged or a person excavating a tunnel under her property. Now I have to go through three Shop posts to get those.
The second effect is subtler but more deadly. The For You used to seem uncanny in its ability to give up stuff that was exactly matched to me. The algorithm now appears to be judging me as a potential consumer rather than a diagnostic tool for my soul.
The Shop and Filter labels are easily mixed up.
TikTok used to try to convince me I had undiagnosed ADHD, but now it just wants me to buy Halara trousers. (Honestly, I can’t open the app without seeing the Halara pants.)
There are several more less quantifiable things that feel less fun about TikTok. One is that I don’t feel as astonished and charmed by whimsy as I once did. It used to feel like I was thrown into strange other tragedies, more bizarre and random niches. The New York Times likened TikTok’s infinite scroll as being stranded on a cul-de-sac, since it has identified my preferred themes and continues to show them to me.
Social networks have lifecycles and stages, and it’s possible that TikTok has reached a point of maximum enjoyment. According to Rebecca Jennings of Vox, trend baiting refers to the deliberate creation of new microtrends such as “loud budgeting” or “mob wife aesthetic,” which often serve as a pretext for lengthy debates, such as the one on whether Italians are considered white.
Now I’m watching Reels?
Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in my time spent on Instagram Reels. Reels remains significantly inferior to TikTok in terms of content and algorithm. But in a strange way, it’s refreshing. TikTok was showing me too much of what I genuinely like; I wanted to see everything I despise – gym bros, hustling culture, traditional spouses, crunchy hippie freaks, and corny couples. I need to cringe in order to feel something.
I hope TikTok rebounds from this strange misstep. Maybe the commerce material will be tamped down after it was heavily marketed; maybe the manner people use it will alter; maybe the pendulum will swing back to odd.
Perhaps this is the start of a platform’s Red Giant era, where its initial addictiveness has led to its eventual demise.
Well, that was enjoyable while it lasted.