Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
TikTok was one of those social media platforms many of my peers – including myself – felt too ‘old’ or ‘cool’ to be on. It seemed like a platform for Gen Z and their constant outpour of new dance routines.
One fine day, I downloaded the app myself out of sheer boredom.
At first glance I was impressed by the ‘For You’ Page on the app- artists, doctors, cooks, current news, celebrities, parodies, skits and marketing gurus were just some of the accounts I came across.
To my surprise, TikTok was a breath of fresh air. Barely anyone I personally knew in real life followed me on it, so it was my first social media platform where I was being unapologetically myself.
Within the first month, my TikTok screen time began averaging a lot higher than even Instagram. At the same time, I began creating TikToks for my own amusement – before/after makeup transition TikToks, compilations of some of my getaways pre-COVID19, the like. My most viewed TikTok is on what it was like to be on a two week post-travel quarantine order.
A month later, I decided to make my account public so that strangers could watch my TikToks.
What happened next was unexpected
I woke up the next day to flooded notifications. The few TikToks I had made for myself over the past month had been viewed hundreds of times!
So I started creating more TikToks. I noticed that localised content works best, my niche being a brown, Muslim, single millennial woman residing in Malaysia. And the more localised content I created, the more followers I would gain
Eventually, I even reached 1000 followers in less than 2 months. I was pretty chuffed, if I do say so myself.
I started getting unsettling messages from men
But the high of being TikTok famous only lasted so long. The harmful effects of social media began setting in. Like Instagram, I got sucked into playing the game of comparing and contrasting, of constantly checking for new likes and followers, being visibly upset if some of my TikToks didn’t reach the benchmark of views I’d set for myself.
But that was par for the course. What really unnerved me, though, was the sheer amount of harassment that I began to receive.
The first of these were unwanted direct messages and comments from men in my area. Many of them weren’t sexually explicit, at first; they would just say “Hi, how are you?”
I would usually ignore those and focus on the positive messages.
Then, some started taking it a bit too far to get my attention. First, they would ‘like’ all my TikToks. Then, comment on each of them constantly. If I didn’t respond, they would DM (direct message) me. They would comment on my body, objectify me; some would ask me out on dates. After I told them I’m not interested, they would say I was ‘ungrateful’ for rejecting them.
Now, I’m pretty thick skinned. This normally wouldn’t be worth talking about, if not for the sheer quantity of inappropriate messages.
On a good day, I’d get around 50-100 of these types of comments bombarding my feed. It felt like a cross between the Youtube comment section and Tinder.
Just to be clear, I don’t do TikToks stripping to my bare essentials and dancing in front of the camera.
At most, I was making TikToks wearing clothes which made me feel good about myself. These would include knee-length dresses and once, a low-cut t-shirt.
Despite that, there were also people who would insist on policing my body and what I do with it. If I didn’t get comments salivating over me, I’d get comments asking me to ‘cover up,’ to ‘have some decency’ kept cropping up, claiming that I was merely ‘looking for attention.’
And yet, I was reduced to putting in all this effort merely for ‘attention’.
Unfortunately, many of these commenters never really understood the point of skits and parodies on TikTok. It’s supposed to be funny, not a way to draw attention to myself.
The final nail in the coffin of my TikTok account
Accumulated, it affected me on the daily; my heart would begin thumping every single time I would receive a new comment or direct message, assuming first that it would be negative instead of positive.
The final nail in the coffin was when my parents told me that their friends had come across my account on TikTok, on their For You Page.
While I may not be ‘guilty’ of seeking attention on TikTok, I was ‘guilty’ of creating content my conservative parents wouldn’t approve of: due to the way I dressed, I talked about my experiences with men.
That was the day I privatised all my best content.
I will admit – it upset me more than I thought it would. The freedom to be unapologetically me in a society where I’ve never been allowed to do so was like nothing else, and having to cut that out felt like cutting flowers from a bush.
With the multiple avenues of harassment I was receiving, coupled with the fear of genuine backlash from my parents, taking a step back from TikTok felt like the only viable option.
And so, I did. I am still active on TikTok, but a lot of the content I post now is heavily censored and, I’d say, comparatively boring.
What I learnt from my brief stint as a TikTok content creator
TikTok is a great platform to get your content out there; its algorithm – from what I’ve seen – is superior to that of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook combined, making it the perfect platform for budding artists or pretty much anyone who has something to say.
At the same time, the amount of harassment I experienced on TikTok merely for existing and amusing myself was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
I learnt the hard way that people will always find something to put you down for, whether out of their own ignorance or insecurities.
You really do need to have a strong backbone if you’re choosing to make your content public.
I may be 27 years old and able to handle or ignore being solicited by strange men on TikTok. But would a vulnerable, 14 year old girl be able to deal with it the same way?
This is what terrified me – not for my own self, but for minors on the app who must be receiving similar messages.
While it is common belief that TikTok is a platform for youngsters, it is in no way a safe platform for them either.
Although it is innovative in more ways than one, TikTok has a dark side to it, and if there’s one thing I can take away from being a TikToker for half a year, it’s this: minors significantly need to be protected on the platform at all costs.
For more stories like this, read: As A Woman, Here’s Why I’m Afraid Of Taking The LRT And Walking Home and I Got Catfished On A Dating App In Malaysia And It Broke My Heart