Throughout 2020, college student Bea Pinlac resisted joining Tiktok, the video sharing app that enamored her fellow Gen Zs during the pandemic. She gave in this year, bored and stressed out by her quarantine life.
Pinlac is among the growing number of Filipinos who turned to TikTok for an escape from the pandemic, albeit a virtual one. The pandemic's undisputed breakout star provides a bottomless feed of dance challenges, food hacks, and comedic content, among others.
"Every day became repetitive as all activities were limited to things we can do at home...I got tired of living in routine so I decided to try the things I’ve always wanted to try," she told reportr.
late 2 the party but hi ???????????? ib: @missmariestella ##fyp? original sound - Maris Racal
By the time she goes to bed at night, Pinlac said she feels fulfilled knowing she was able to try something different for the day thanks to the app's plethora of challenges. Such small "achievements", she said, already feel big enough after a year of being stuck at home.
The app owned by China's Bytedance was the Philippines' most downloaded app for 2020, according to We Are Social. In the U.S., former president Donald Trump tried to ban the app, accusing it of connivance with the government in Beijing.
Now, in 2021, Tiktok is still in the U.S., stronger than ever worldwide in shaping pandemic life for its 1.2 billion active users (as of February, according to App Annie).
Tiktok is an escape
#duet with @courtney.mcgough i—? original sound - Cerys<3
Like Pinlac, 22-year-old Pam Rodriguez found solace in Tiktok, allowing her to break free from the country's state of affairs.
"Honestly it gets better, then gets worse, and then it just goes in a cycle...I tried to do a lot of baking, embroidering, painting, and other crafting stuff to keep me busy," she said.
Tiktok keeps her occupied enough, like an entire world on its own, where she can go from dressing like a Disney character one day, to meme-fying another person's content in another.
"I watch TikTok everyday— so much so to the point that I had to set a timer to remind myself not to watch too much...I still end up ignoring the timer most of the time though."
Tiktok connects people to others, like never before
According to Pinlac, the platform allowed her to connect with not just her friends, but also strangers, in its unique way.
"It helped me see through people’s minds in quarantine," she said, as the app's variety of content can go from politics to comedy to beauty with each swipe up or down.
Tiktok goes beyond what the newsfeeds of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram usually do. Its main feed, the "For You" page, allows users to discover content that are not necessarily posted by anyone they follow.
It's what allowed 23-year old Jo Sebastian to find her community on the platform.
As a Registered Nutrionist and Dietician (RND), Tiktok enables her to educate and offer advice to people who are "struggling with body image in quarantine, sick of diets and wanted to be able to make healthy choices for themselves," she said.
"I learned a lot about the kind of message I want to have and how educating individuals about health is so important so we don’t fall into the diet traps," she said.
Tiktok listens more than anyone (or any app)
It's the spontaneity of Tiktok's feed that allows people to discover communities like never before in the app. According to Pinlac, it "reminds [her] of how social interaction was before quarantine".
It's really thanks to the app's algorithm, which breaks the rules that most Silicon Valley companies have been founded on. Usually, apps would use users' digital footprints as basis for showing content they hope would keep people hooked.
On Tiktok, it's mostly the other way around.
“It’s doing the thing that Twitter tried to solve, that everyone tried to solve: 'How do you get people to engage?'. Apparently you just … show them things, and let a powerful artificial intelligence take notes. You start sending daily notifications immediately. You tell them what to do. You fake it till you make it, algorithmically speaking," Ankur Thkkar, former editorial lead at Vine, told the New York Times.
"Why not just start showing people things and see what they do about it? Why not just ask people to start making things and see what happens? If engagement is how success is measured, why not just design the app where taking up time is the entire point?," he said.
But what about the world outside Tiktok?
As with any other social media app, Tiktok can only do so much to keep people company. Countries like the Philippines still have some form of quarantine in place with global vaccine supply short.
"I’m currently at a standstill," said Sebastian, the dietician. There is so much comfort to being at home and her freelance work "that it can be hard to push yourself into the directions you wanted to go," she said.
It's a constant battle between going out there to live life "cause you could die any time" and staying at home to honor the sacrifice of frontliners.
Rodriguez feels like she's "just floating through the pandemic to the best of [her] abilities."
"I miss being with friends and my peers, but it’s a sacrifice we all have to take..For now, I look forward to being able to travel with my loved ones again," she said.