Love it or hate it, TikTok is the dominant media of the modern internet. It provides bite-sized content for everything you love and hate. And all while elevating unknown faces into digital superstars.
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to envy these TikTok stars. Who wouldn’t want to get rich and famous? Especially for things like cool dance moves and funny lip-syncing skits?
But as it turns out, there is a dark side behind the fame. Here’s the sad truth about being a star on TikTok.
The pressure is insane
Part of TikTok’s success is that content seems to move at the speed of light. You might sit down to watch a funny video or two. But it doesn’t take long to get lost in a flurry of short clips (many of which only last a few seconds).
That means that trends come and go on TikTok even faster than platforms like YouTube or Instagram. In order for a TikTok star to be successful, they need to constantly churn out content. Otherwise, their followers will ditch them for someone else.
In an interview with Experience Magazine, Toan Truong (@toankotsu), explained how this feels. “When I first started my account, I had around 95 followers, and never did I ever feel pressured to constantly create new content and be mindful of mistakes,” he said. “Now, with my follower count nearing 200,000, that pressure has definitely started to settle in. This aspect is an inevitable part of sharing created content with the world.”
Truong’s story is familiar to every successful TikTok star. The constant pressure to churn out new content turns this fun and creative platform into just another job for its biggest stars.
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Self-esteem issues (no, really)
Psychologists have long worried about the negative effects that social media can have on someone’s self-esteem, especially young people. And when it comes to TikTok (a platform largely driven by a younger demographic), those self-esteem issues can affect even the biggest stars.
For example, 17-year-old Kayla Christine Long told NBC News that she posted a viral video about how she had nothing to eat that day save for a jug of water. The video got over two million views, but she deleted it a week later. The following month, she was diagnosed with an eating disorder.
She said she felt emboldened to post the content because she saw so many other young women posting “thinspiration” videos that actually encouraged unhealthy eating habits. And the nature of the algorithm meant that the more she engaged with these unhealthy videos, the more of them she ended up seeing.
What about the big TikTok stars who don’t delete their accounts? They feel compelled to create the kind of content (even unhealthy content) that users like. This helps them stay relevant on the platform. And their brands are so tied to how they look that many of these stars suffer from eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and other major issues as a result of their TikTok success.
In some cases, even the challenges and games on the platform can be a major threat!
When viral challenges get dangerous
One of the best and worst parts of TikTok are the viral challenges and dances. These challenges encourage users to record themselves as they succeed (or fail) at whatever the latest challenge may be. And the dances encourage users to channel their inner rockstar.
However, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. In a weird example of this, many users have injured themselves trying to perform a special dance to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP.”
The TikTok dance came from Brian Esperon, a user from Guam whose tutorial for the slick moves has received over 13 million views. But thanks to the complicated moves, The New York Post reported that at least one person blew their knees out and had to go to the hospital after trying to copy the dance.
Espenson actually posted a reaction video to this incident, saying, “When the dance you made on Tiktok sends someone to the hospital.” And this highlights a real danger for creators. Copying someone else’s dances or challenges may cause injury, and their own creative challenges might put followers’ lives in danger!
TikTok is a mostly-reactive social media platform. Much of the content isn’t exactly “new.” Instead, even some of TikTok’s biggest stars are simply putting their own spin on what others have said or done.
For example, people like Sarah Cooper achieved viral fame for lip-syncing some of Donald Trump’s weirder phrases. And as president, Trump produced enough of these phrases and comic moments to launch Cooper’s fame. She parlayed that fame into a Netflix special back in October, but now that Trump lost the 2020 election, stars like Cooper have less content to play off of.
The blunt truth is that many of the most famous TikTok stars would be nothing without the content of others. And having to rely on others to keep pumping out that content adds another layer of stress to TikTok fame.
That’s assuming, of course, the TikTok star doesn’t get canceled for saying the wrong thing.
Ongoing threat of cancellation
Regardless of how you feel about “cancel culture,” it is a daily part of our lives. Someone can achieve fame and fortune very quickly on TikTok. But all it takes is one scandal or even just an awkward moment to take it all away.
One of the best examples of this is Charli D’Amelio. The New York Post reported that the 16-year-old star was the most followed person on TikTok, nearing 100 million followers in November 2020. But as she was just half a million followers away from her milestone goal, scandal erupted. Her family posted a video to their YouTube channel, and fans were turned off by her attitude and remarks. She ended up losing one million followers on TikTok in the fallout.
The “scandal” was relatively mild. In the video, she is sitting down for a fancy dinner with her family. But when she hears that the snail-filled dish is “an omen of good luck and fortune” from her personal chef, she blurts out, “Liars.”
She eventually asks her chef (a “Chef Extraordinaire” in the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame) if she can eat “dino nuggets” instead. Later, she complains about not hitting 100 million followers fast enough.
Again, this is pretty mild in terms of internet scandals. But she quickly lost over a million followers, causing her to openly sob on an Instagram Live video where she ponders quitting TikTok altogether.
Ultimately, her story perfectly encapsulates the reality of TikTok fame: it’s easy come, easy go, and even one bad video or off-color comment can destroy an online reputation.