The Impact of TikTok’s Narrow Age Demographic on Society and Content Creation: Is Exclusivity Harmful or Beneficial?

TikTok on Phone by Nordskov Media (CC0 1.0 Universal), via flickr

I. Setting the Stage: TikTok’s Growing Influence and Age Dynamics.

TikTok, a short-form video platform, has rapidly captivated millions worldwide in the social media and digital entertainment business. While the platform’s popularity rises, a prominent demographic divide lies beneath its allure. TikTok’s main age demographic is adolescent viewers, which gives rise to the generation gap. This naturally leads to this question: Are there any detrimental consequences of Tiktok’s age skew and how might it influence both content creation and societal dynamics? To solve this conundrum, we’ll delve into how TikTok’s exclusivity fosters a harmful effect on society by molding perceptions, hindering intergenerational communication, and constraining creative diversity. 


II. TikTok’s Dominant Age Demographic

Recent statistics reveal that TikTok’s core user base includes teenagers and young adults aged between 16-24 (Kennedy, 2020). This age skew implies the platform’s attraction to the younger generation, making it a digital playground to creatively express themselves (Jain & Arakkal, 2022). Why is it so popular among young users? There are several pivotal factors. Firstly, its user-friendly interface aligns with the younger generation’s taste for intuitive platforms, offering fast and simple content creation tools that add accessibility (Jain & Arakkal, 2022). TikTok’s vast networking potential is another cornerstone, as the algorithm forges a sense of community by connecting like-minded individuals and facilitating content discovery (Vaterlaus & Winter, 2021). The content diversity also captivates more attention as the platform covers a broad spectrum of interests, ensuring user empathy (Jain & Arakkal, 2022). Finally, TikTok provides a stage to display interpersonal skills such as humour, charisma, and creativity- ultimately building the platform’s status for personal expression and engagement (Jain & Arakkal, 2022).

III. The Drawbacks of TikTok’s Exclusivity

 (Mashaim, 2023)                                                                   

Such a narrow age demographic raises concerns about the age-based echo chambers within TikTok. When users are predominantly from a certain age demographic, there is a risk of insular community formation, where perspectives and values may become homogenized (Rodrigues da Cunha Palmieri, 2023). This further hinders open discourse and the sharing of diverse life experiences. Furthermore, valuable opportunities for cross-generational understanding are deprived due to the lack of interactions and exchanges between different age groups. Fostering empathy, bridging generational gaps and enriching cultural understandings- essential elements for societal growth- remain elusive. Finally, concentration on younger users may place pressure to conform to prevailing trends within their demographic. Such conformity may limit individuality as young users pursue to fit in, leading to low self-esteem and self-expression (Martínez-Cardama & Gómez-López, 2023). The desire to gain popularity within such a culture also has the potential to unrealistic expectations and unhealthy competition for young users. 

IV. Detrimental Effects of TikTok’s Exclusivity on Society

TikTok’s exclusive focus on younger users holds a substantial influence in shaping values, behaviours, and cultural norms among the younger generation. It serves as a centre for trends and ideas that deeply resonate within the demographic. While this influence isn’t fundamentally negative, it may contribute to formulating a single, generation-centred cultural narrative and unintentionally sidelining broad perspectives. Recent contents also memefy intergenerational relationships, exemplified by trends like ‘#OkBoomer, time to meet the Zoomers (Zeng & Abidin, 2021).’ While humour can provide commentary, it can also perpetuate generational division and dismiss important concerns. Such memefication of intergenerational politics underscores the influence TikTok has on communication between different age groups, sometimes diverging toward oversimplification rather than valuable dialogue. TikTok’s centre on a specific age group also has a potential for ageism- age-based discrimination and stereotypes (Ng & Indran, 2022). As misconceptions about different generations are reinforced and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, there is a need to address ageism to foster inclusivity and dismantle prejudices in the digital world. 

V. Negative Impacts on Content Creation

TikTok’s predominantly youth-based users significantly influence the types of content that go viral. While this influence gains traction, it also raises concerns about the nature of the content it produces. In several cases, TikTok’s young user base has led to alarming content trends, including dangerous and risky challenges, often led by young influencers seeking popularity. Examples such as a teenager suffering severe burns from a viral challenge, casualty resulting from the ‘Paqui one chip challenge (Nacion, 2023),’ and pushing the limit on extreme actions for likes underline the dark consequences of TikTok’s age-specific content dynamics (“TikTok,” 2023). Furthermore, there is a potential for restricted content diversity and innovation as users produce content that caters only to certain age group’s preferences. 

VI. Potential Benefits of TikTok’s Exclusivity

TikTok Starts Charli and Dixie D’Amelio in a video for UNICEF by Priyanka Pruthi (CC BY 3.0 DEED), via Wikimedia Commons

While we have explored the limitations and potential dangers of TikTok’s environment, it is important to recognise that such exclusivity also holds several merits. Users who share similar life experiences and stages can foster a strong sense of community. Adolescence is a crucial period for social interaction, especially with peers (Rosen, 2022). TikTok’s exclusivity allows connecting with similar individuals and creates a supportive online environment. Young creators and influencers are also empowered through this platform that showcases their perspectives and talents. Such empowerment can be particularly meaningful for young users during times of navigating self-discovery and personal growth. TikTok becomes a place to build personal brands and make positive impacts on each other, as the ‘D’Amelio Effect’ exemplifies, where ordinary teenagers can rise to fame and influence through their creative efforts (Boffone, 2022). This phenomenon underlines the potential of TikTok’s exclusivity to contribute to the vibrant youth culture’s shine. 

VII. The Role of AI and Controversy of Age Exclusivity

Some argue that TikTok’s environment lies in its approach to content presentation. Unlike other social media platforms where users make choices of content preference, TikTok employs AI to analyse user reactions (likes, comments, and reshares) to determine content recommendations (Petrillo, 2021). This may also imply that TikTok’s exclusivity is simply a naturally evolved reflection of user preferences. Nevertheless, while user preferences hold a significant role, it does not fully address the potential consequences of excluding different age groups. Thus, the controversy over TikTok’s age exclusivity underscores the need for a balanced approach to age diversity on social media platforms. It is crucial to strike a balance between catering to certain age demographic’s preferences while also building inclusivity and different perspectives. This approach will further ensure the benefits of exclusivity while mitigating negative consequences and ultimately promoting a more equitable digital environment. 

VIII. Shaping the Future: TikTok’s Potential for Age-Inclusive Evolution

The future of TikTok’s age skew remains a subject worth debating. While the platform has thrived with its predominantly young users, offering unique benefits, it may evolve in response to changing user preferences and the need for a more inclusive setting. In the modern era where digital platforms play a crucial role in shaping society, there is a collective responsibility for both the platform and users to contemplate the impact of exclusivity. Considering how each online interaction and choice affects societal well-being is essential. Bo Petterson’s story offers a striking example of how one can bridge generational gaps and offer guidance as a mentor for millions worldwide (Nicioli,2023). Being a ‘TikTok Dad’ demonstrates to platform’s capacity to empower diverse age groups to share their experiences and transcending the borderline of age-specific content. Taking inspiration from Bo Petterson, users may actively engage with diverse content while platforms can take deliberate steps to encourage a more embracing environment that goes beyond age-specific divisions. The answer lies in striving for a balance, where TikTok continues to empower its youthful energy and actively works to connect generational divides and promote content diversity. This call to action further prompts meaningful reflection on how TikTok can contribute to a more harmonious and positive digital landscape.

Reference List

Kennedy, M. (2020). ‘If the rise of the TikTok dance and e-girl aesthetic has taught us anything, it’s that teenage girls rule the internet right now’: TikTok celebrity, girls and the Coronavirus crisis. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 23(6), 1069–1076. 

Jain, P., & Arakkal, J. (2022). Perceived Popularity of TikTok among Gen-Z. Cardiometry, (24), 896-902. 

Vaterlaus, J. M., & Winter, M. (2021). TikTok: an exploratory study of young adults’ uses and gratifications. The Social Science Journal, 1–20. 

Ng, R., & Indran, N. (2022). Not Too Old for TikTok: How Older Adults are Reframing Aging. The Gerontologist, 62(8), 1207–1216. 

Rodrigues da Cunha Palmieri, E. (2023). Social media, echo chambers and contingency: a system theoretical approach about communication in the digital space. Kybernetes. 

Martínez-Cardama, S., & Gómez-López, E. (2023). Impact of Social Media on Self-esteem and Emotions: An Instagram-Based Case Study. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 109–122. 

Zeng, J., & Abidin, C. (2021). “#OkBoomer, time to meet the Zoomers”: studying the memefication of intergenerational politics on TikTok. Information, Communication & Society, 24(16), 1–23. 

TikTok: what is the latest dangerous social networking trend? (2023, May 27). CE Noticias Financieras. 

Nacion, L. (2023, May 02). Near tragedy: he did a TikTok challenge and ended up in the hospital with 75% of his body burned. CE Noticias Financieras. 

FOX 11 Los Angeles. (2023, September 6). Teen dies after trying ‘One Chip Challenge’

[Video]. YouTube. 

Rosen, D. (2022). The Social Media Debate. Routledge. 

Boffone, T. (2022). Tiktok cultures in the United States. Routledge. 

Petrillo, S. (2021, December 13). What Makes TikTok so Addictive?: An Analysis of the Mechanisms Underlying the World’s Latest Social Media Craze. Brown Undergraduate Journal of Public Health. 

Nicioli, T. (2023, Apr 28). Dad and daughter duo post ‘dad advice’ for young adults on TikTok. CNN Wire Service 

WRAL. (2023, April 29). Wake Forest teen, Mason Dark, now in burn unit after TikTok challenge burns 80% of his body [Video]. YouTube. 

Wall Street Journal. (2021, July 22). How TikTok’s Algorithm Figures You Out | WSJ [Video]. YouTube. 

Mashaim [MashaimSalman]. (2023, September 30). I can’t be the only one who thinks that ig and TikTok and all the reels are feeding such a. [Tweet]. Twitter. 

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