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Tik Toks, Reels, and Shorts: How Short Form Content Diminishes User Autonomy

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Last updated on November 6, 2022

If you’re familiar with Tik Tok (or any other short-form social media app), you’ve most likely heard of the Belarussian-American social entrepreneur Gary Vee. Preaching to more than 15 million followers on Tik Tok, Vee’s page is essentially the Farmers’ Almanac of the Internet. He discusses side hustles, media tactics, hard work, investment strategies, and more. 

The pinnacle of his brand? Quantity over quality, short-form, fast-paced content. The most efficient way to go viral, Gary argues, is to pick up the nearest camera and post anything and everything – at least three times a day. The best part? In his expert opinion, anyone can do it.

“From day one it was in my soul that all the lighting didn’t have to be perfect. Nothing had to be perfect except the [expletive] that was coming out of my mouth”, he exclaims in a Tik Tok recorded on his iPhone. 

In the past 5 years, short-form content platforms have taken the media game by storm. As well-established companies such as YouTube and Instagram have recently taken on their own short-form campaigns with the likes of YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels, it’s impossible to deny the influence they have had on the scene. 

And Gary is spot on: anyone can make short-form content. As opposed to older, deeply-developed platforms which require lighting crews and production teams to make explore-page-worthy content, Tik Tok’s main creator-base is people taking the advice of Gary Vee and recording videos on their phones. In this day and age, it’s uncommon for high schoolers to post long-form content like YouTube videos and podcasts; it’s more than common for them to post short clips of themselves and their friends. As Tik Tok (and similar platforms) have exploded, they’ve lowered the bar of accessibility when it comes to who is posting content.

To our new generation of social media entrepreneurs, this is a positive thing. The average person can most likely go viral within a month if they post thrice a day. The less-developed scene doesn’t have a firm ruleset; creators have more opportunity to experiment with what works and what doesn’t work. 

However, this increase in accessibility may not be a good thing. For one, Tik Tok’s consumer base is of a similar nature to its creator base as it’s become far more popular with younger children over time (Digital Information World).

What’s the problem with this?

Well, of course, young users are more naive and impressionable. This comes with the normal risks of being on the Internet: children are more susceptible to scams, predators, and exposure to inappropriate topics. 

But there are also problems specific to short-form content. For instance, on platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram, the user chooses what type of content they view to a much higher degree. This is mainly due to the dominant layout where one chooses the content they see by becoming a subscriber or follower. 

On the other hand, when it comes to YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels, and Tik Tok explore pages, the user has far less control over what they see. Although it does have a follower-based aspect, short-form content works mainly on algorithms that choose what the user watches as they mindlessly scroll. This amplifies the dangers of the Internet as less mature younger populations are in even less control when it comes to what they consume online. 

So, what’s the takeaway?

Gary Vee’s words ring true in that short-form content has allowed anyone, from friends making dance videos at school to entire institutions such as the FDA, to become viral content creators. However, this isn’t necessarily positive, given that the nature of short-form content exposes a younger audience to what’s often the harsh reality of the Internet while simultaneously giving them less control over what they see. 

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