This paper aims to consider the impact that the popularised app TikTok has recently had on millennial and generation z culture regarding their identity formation and performance.Apps such as TikTok allow teens and young adults to explore and perform the nuances of online identity whilst gaining audiences through participatory culture.
As described by John Herman in a 2019 New York Times article, “TikTok is an app for making and sharing short videos… The result is an endless unspooling of material that people, many very young, might be too self-conscious to post on Instagram, or that they never would have come up with in the first place without a nudge. It can be hard to watch. It can be charming. It can be very, very funny. It is frequently, in the language widely applied outside the platform, from people on other platforms, extremely “cringe.””
Ultimately, identity for teens online can provide an opportunity to become a part of social networks or subcultural communities, and we do see this forming in some instances on TikTok, just as much as other social networking sites. We can see identity in this context as the fractured self, a representation of various interests and personalities colliding together. Identity can be seen as a performance, as argued in this article regarding how teens are relying on TikTok to display such performances of identity:
“They are filming themselves crying at the camera without saying a word. A blank face soaked with tears, playing on loop as many times as you fancy. They are, as Monash University lecturer in social media Emily van der Nagel tells me, using rituals. “It’s not simply about saying ‘I’m sad’,” she said. “It’s about sharing on a pool of cultural references to communicate.” TikTok, perhaps more than any other current platform, allows its huge youth audience to articulate not just the see-me and hear-me aspects of socialising, but also a visual representation of the rituals and markers of youth. “We’re seeing a beautiful layered cake of identity,” says Van der Nagel. “At the base is ‘I’m at school with my friends, I have a uniform,’ then there’s ‘We’re doing something that exists within the culture of the platform (like a viral challenge)’, then there’s another layer that is ‘I have also set up a song that you know’.” Refined by years of mistakes and ugly trends, TikTok offers a stern and deliberate effort to show off who you are and what you care about.” (Esposito, 2020).
The interesting aspect of identity performance among many young users on TikTok is the change of self projection from other social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook. On sites such as these, we see the heavily edited and altered identity performed in most instances, to show a successful and attractive persona, with content to impress audiences. Though this does also occur on TikTok in some instances, there is a curious trend of showing the ‘real’ self, or less visible problems and flaws that one would not normally express online in fear of appearing less than.
The rise in social media sites such as Tik Tok and its predecessors Music.ly and Vine have arguably only exponentially added to the sense of participatory culture within teen subcultures online. Media and meme creation that directly references current affairs and other user’s content on an immediate basis allows the conversations and trends to be constantly changing and evolving.
“Participation in online cultures of sharing and interaction via social media is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and, arguably, compulsory among groups of young people in late capitalist societies (Marwick and boyd, 2014; Robards, 2014). And, particularly as a result of the evolution and diffusion of mobile multimedia technologies, such participation takes on an increasingly ‘always-on’ character, whereby users’ connection with others via such platforms forms a constant feature of everyday lives that traverse a range of physical settings.”
An example of this instant reflection, commentary and criticism that can work to build and enhance user’s online identity performance is the duet feature on TikTok.
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