I think we all know that TikTok and other social media are not good for us, but it’s hard to step away.
Recognizing we’re living in a time where – well, a lot needs to change – social media can help spread art and information. However, the primary objective of social media (and TikTok in particular) is to simply hold your attention. Though a thriving space of revolutionary organizing and art exists on the app, real change can only happen if we work outside of it.
There is an excellent TikTok that is a product of an ardent artist, a man playing an upright bass chaotically, repeating “murder for no reason/ put them in jail” in his low, gravelly, singing/ screaming voice. He transitions to an even more chaotic kazoo solo for his bridge, then repeats “murdering the innocent/ put the police in jail,” until his minute is up. It’s very shocking, and an excellent use of TikTok for the purposes of jarring, anti-establishment art. Every comment is “this goes so hard,” and “wow. This is art.”
First of all, the video is only going to be shown to people who already have anti-establishment leanings, and is not going to have the jarring effect that is possible outside of social media.
However, if you are already down with the idea of putting the police in jail, it’s even worse. TikTok corrupts your experience of that art, begging you to see this, comment “fire, bro,” and keep scrolling on to recipes, dances, sketches, political news, on to philosophical debates. You’ve only been presented with an idea of something in the middle of a deluge of ideas about other things. After you’ve scrolled for an hour, you feel like you’ve just eaten way too much candy on Halloween night, bloated on ideas.
The song is a call to action, to connect its idea to something transformative, yet the app keeps you isolated, distracted and stationary.
Similarly, through TikTok and other social media platforms, the October 15th labor strike has spread, and I hope you participate. However, again, its spread on social media has primarily been at the service of the social media industry, which prioritizes complacency, avoidance, and a sanitization of world issues. The strike will only be successful if we talk to each other, think critically about our priorities, and make a real effort to organize.
This is not to limit the power of social media to organize, but we live in a world far too screwed for just social media to fix it. Even shocking works of art or cohesive organizing efforts may be subsumed by the isolating, polarizing nature of social media. Building revolutionary social change relies on sticking with people. It relies on conflict resolution, rather than scrolling away when you’re slightly dissatisfied. The more we consume TikTok and other social media, the more we accustom ourselves to the process of disregarding potential allies so, so quickly.
So get your roommate to go to a protest. Or graffiti “we’ve entered the dystopia” somewhere. Or don’t, you’re the artist.