Social Media

The Rabbit Hole of Social Media Just Got Deeper

Delaney Ruston, MD
December 21, 2020

My kids and others are talking about the new face of social apps, and boy is it concerning. We know how immensely popular TikTok has become, which uses the model of having one short, entertaining video right after another from people you follow and from the most popular ones on the platform. This algorithm is designed precisely for your liking, which has made it so successful and engaging.

alice in wonderland

My son came into the kitchen the other day and exclaimed, "Mom, you have to write about this for TTT: Snapchat just announced something they call 'Spotlight,' and Instagram has Reels, which started recently."

Both these platforms are meant to grab the TikTok audience. Snapchat's Spotlight incentifies people into submitting their videos by promising to give away $1 million to top creators daily. Instagram Reels differentiates itself from TikTok by limiting videos to 30 seconds versus TikTok's maximum of one minute. Instagram already takes so much of the social media time-space that adding Reels gives them a chance to extend their audience's time, hoping they will stay there rather than leave to check in with TikTok.

Youth tell me repeatedly how they have never experienced time getting away from them as much as when they are on TikTok. There they may spend two hours and be shocked that so much time passed because it felt more like just 20 minutes.

One college Freshman recently told me that he has never downloaded TikTok because: "I've heard that even people who don't feel addicted to any other social media are super addicted to TikTok and spend hours on it. And they don't even have a sense of time when they're on it. And that scares me."

I predict that based on the huge success of TikTok, these new features on Snapchat and Instagram are going to become very popular. I could be wrong, but no matter what, let's get the conversation going.

Recently I asked middle and high schoolers about their take on these new social media features, as well as TikTok, and here are some of their responses:

C.S., an 8th-grade boy:

"On Snapchat, I sometimes look at the Spotlight section. It's similar to TikTok but at the same time different. Spotlight you may record something and put it on there or your story and put certain tags like #dog or #country and just things like that. You may also like videos, but you can't comment. TikTok, on the other hand, you can basically do everything, including the things Snapchat has for Spotlight."

A.C., a senior girl:

"In the beginning of this year, I used TikTok a lot for the dance videos, but I started to realize that it wasn't making me very happy, so I deleted the app. The dances stopped being fun, and all the girls wore tiny shirts, which wasn't good for my body image. I've seen some "celebrity" Instagram accounts that use Reels, but I don't think it's nearly as popular as TikTok. I think Instagram created it just in case TikTok was banned, but I could be wrong. I had heard about Snapchat's Spotlight this weekend, but I don't plan on looking at it!"

C.M., a freshman girl:

"For the Snapchat [Spotlight] and Instagram Reels, my friends and I never ever use them. I feel that TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram are all different apps with different purposes and shouldn't try to copy each other."

I.W., a sophomore girl:

"I've spent a little time on sections on Snapchat and Instagram that are like TikTok. They are entertaining, but TikTok is much more addictive, in my opinion. The videos on TikTok are a good length, and the algorithm is very good at constructing the 'For You Page' to pull you in and keep you entertained."

I went on to ask I.W. a few more questions:

How long are you on TikTok a day, and is that more or less than you want? How do you finally stop when you stop?

She responded:

It depends on each day but generally about an hour. I've spent a lot more time on it recently with online school because it's easy to scroll through during breaks in class or when I finish something early.

Finally, I asked her:

What are the types of videos, TikToks, shows do you follow?

She responded:

"I watch a lot of health/ fitness videos, food recipe videos, videos about tv shows/movies I've seen, political videos, and sort of the mainstream TikTok trends."

Are there types of videos that you don't like seeing?

"Videos I don't like seeing are ones with influencers that are modeling inappropriate behaviors. For example, there are a lot of videos about what very slim/ fit people eat in a day. A lot of the time, they are giving young girls unhealthy expectations for what they should be eating and how they should be exercising. They generally don't include enough food that most teen/young girls need."

A.H., a senior girl:

"I'm not on TikTok, but am on Snapchat and Instagram. I've looked through Instagram Reels, but not the Snapchat Spotlight feature. I think the Reels are definitely a time suck. While they are fun to look at, scrolling through those makes me lose track of time I'm spending there."

Ideas for conversation starters:

  1. Do you, the adult, use Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat. Talking with your kids about the whys or why nots can be a good entry point into a discussion. Recently, during a Chapter Club event around my new book, I asked parents about their use of these apps, and far fewer used them than I had predicted.
  2. Has your child been on Spotlight or Reels? What have they seen or heard about these?
  3. Why is the model of TikTok so enticing? (We have a Screenagers Podcast on this topic)
  4. What do people think about the responses from the teens in this TTT?

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Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new  book, Parenting in the Screen Age

Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.

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