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  • Charlie Sandles

TikTok, Teach Me the Way of Life

© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri

Sex ed and cultural rituals - how TikTok has become the new school institution.

I love TikTok, and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Most of us have been lured in by the domination of trending videos and dances- as well as the social media personalities flocking to the platform- and as a result, are addicted to the snappy minute long content. But whilst the comedy of trending content is enjoyable, the notion of the platform becoming somewhat informative and educational has of late become more apparent. Ranging from dentistry to mathematics, sex education and cultural rituals, creators are utilising the platform to educate users on a variety of topics. The influx of more ‘taboo’ subjects that are covered, however, face removal due to the nature of content published and its breach of community guidelines. The question remains- how are we supposed to educate individuals on such topics in the right way if they are considered offensive?

You may not think that you’d be interested in the history of an 18 bedroom Manor House in rural Wisconsin but when two hours later you’ve watched the entire renovation of the couples’ dream home, you’re probably able to recite the complete memoirs of the building and its grounds, it’s hard to say otherwise. TikTok hosts numerous accounts that educate individuals on a variety of different topics; the short video dynamic complemented with easy to comprehend facts, tips and tricks creates an enjoyable and innovative method of learning.

The pandemic, whilst teaching us many lessons, has reminded us that we thrive by connecting with others. Technology grants us the ability to connect with family and friends, and social media platforms such as TikTok expand this further by encouraging a sense of community and culture. Evolving from simply presenting meme culture, TikTok has seen impressive growth into new areas- the introduction of the ‘Learn’ tab and supporting #learnwithtiktok campaign showcases the expansion of the platform into new heights. Whilst only being trialled, the number of accounts boasting educational content has grown exponentially, offering individuals the opportunity to enlighten themselves on new topics in exciting and innovative ways. Even teachers have flocked to the platform to deliver Pythagoras’ Theorem and trigonometry in effort to appeal to a diverse range of students; this simplification of subjects, known as ‘soft diplomacy’, enables teachers to deliver content to those students that have trouble learning in the traditional format.

Extending further than school education, people on the platform are choosing to create videos that share their culture; this celebration of identity encourages individuals to immerse themselves in the varying cultures of the world. @notoriouscree, adorned in traditional indigenous costume, utilises the platform to enlighten others on the traditions and rituals of indigenous people of South America. Indian culture is celebrated by @milan.mathew, whose account features videos of India’s stunning traditional dress in her collection of sarees, tikkas and bangles.

© Courtesy of @notoriouscree

© Courtesy of @milan.mathew

Although the platform has become host to many educational accounts, there are certain topics that are penalised for their subject matter- videos that err on the side of topics with a sexual or intimate nature, discuss drugs/ addiction, mental health to name a few, are often restricted or removed for breaching community guidelines. Whilst it is important to monitor content as a way to prevent any videos of offensive racist or derogatory nature from evolving, there are certain topics that are important to learn about that are restricted due to their nature. As the platform is accessible to all, it is arguably best that some information is restricted via demonstrations and language as it prevents individuals from being offended by the content. Yet maybe the answer is to give content creators the opportunity to choose the age limit that their video(s) are most appropriate for, akin to the community guidelines on YouTube. In turn, creators have opted to use alternative props and language/ spelling to divert algorithms intended to flag questionable content. But should this be needed in the first place? I don’t think I am the only one to suggest that the sex ed taught in secondary school was far from the reality that we face when it comes to our first time; creators on TikTok such as @adriannashardey use their platform to voice these concerns, posting content ranging from ‘coochie chats’, whereby girls can ask questions about their lady parts to be answered by the pharmacist, to videos on how to correctly use a condom or other means of contraception.

Content creators breaching these topics have made TikTok a place where teenagers and young adults can learn about subjects where they may have unanswered questions and issues. Whilst drug abuse and sexual health are topics explored in school in the one-off PSHE day, often they don’t cover the topics students want, and need, to know about. However, these videos addressing the concerns around drug misuse, sexual health etc, when explored in depth by creators, often face removal as they breach community guidelines. But isn’t this just further sweeping the issue under the rug? Talks in school concerning drug abuse focus on attempting to dissuade individuals from using drugs but don’t enlighten students on how to safely practice drugs if they do come into contact with it. This is where content creators on TikTok bridge the gap, offering information that is equally as important as highlighting the initial dangers of using drugs. Delivering the information in a way that is too explicit, however, results in the video being removed… how else are we supposed to educate people on these issues? It seems like a catch-22 situation, but surely it is more important to impart this knowledge than not?

© Courtesy of @adriannashardey

Why is it that people are offended by this content? Surely we want to educate people on these subjects so that they are better informed and thus safer and more aware of the realities attached to sex, drugs etc. Is there a way to regulate this content that is considered ‘taboo’ to ensure that any inappropriate content approaching these topics is removed whilst allowing those with educational intent to remain? Whilst society has become more open to discussing conventionally taboo topics, there still is some reluctance to fully accept conversation around these subjects becoming mainstream, especially on social media platforms. Will we see more educational videos emerging on the platform, making TikTok less about memes and more about culture? Will the ‘Learn’ tab be revived, giving users the opportunity to indulge in educational content over the newest dance trend? Or will it remain as is, monitored and restricted, leaving many creators with removed content or even shadow banned?


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