"Consult your local health authorities for the latest on COVID-19," an app-wide warning reads at the bottom of any TikTok tagged #coronavirus. Thousands upon thousands of people around the world self-quarantine, and thousands more are beginning to take precautions to avoid COVID-19, utilizing social distancing measures. After laying in bed for my virtual business law lecture, I find that my For You Page is an endless scroll of memes about coughing in public, toilet paper hysteria and online college classes. Auckland pop newcomer BENEE's isolationist hit "Supalonely" is coincidentally one of the most viral sounds on the platform at the moment, with over two million videos made to the track and top influencers trying out the dance. This is TikTok under the threat of the novel coronavirus.
What seemed like far-off meme fodder mere days ago has evolved into a reality that a generation inheriting a laundry list of sociopolitical problems is trying to comprehend, sans Contagion-level anxiety. Jokes have turned into surrealist play-by-plays of life behind screens. Something compelling appears when contrasting TikTok timelines with other social media platforms at the moment: hope.
A glimmer of optimism exists on the Gen Z-powered TikTok, with a steady stream of fact-checking COVID-19 videos broken up by cute dogs and various dance trends. On Twitter, you'd be hard pressed to find anything to stem the flow of information (and disinformation) surrounding the pandemic. That's not to say that ignorance is bliss on TikTok, but rather that the content has become reflective of the app's joyful nature.
TikToks can easily be made in isolation; dance trends are limited to a solitary range of pixels, causing movements to be limited but intentional. Jokes are hyper-current and daily artifacts, and homepages are tailored to the individual. Most of all, the platform heals isolation: duets, sound-sharing, and the other general functions that TikTok possesses as a social network are allowing even the most panic-ridden users to stay connected.
You may not have seen this coming, but it's here regardless: TikTok is helping a generation cope with a pandemic.