By Audrey Tan

As our attention spans continue to dwindle, social media has become the go-to outlet for “reading the news”. In a 2021 Pew Research survey, about half of adults in the US say they get their news from social media platforms.

TikTok, particularly, is on the rise to becoming a source of information for people of all ages, particularly our younger generations.

Tik-Tok As A Source Of News

Nearly 40% of Gen Z-ers use TikTok and Instagram as alternative search engines. Because of this, plenty of news stories are making their way onto these platforms, often intertwined with fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. 

There’s no mindlessly browsing memes and cat videos these days without scrolling past some tragedy happening in some part of the world. While it is good to stay informed, this proliferation of “unofficial” reports is proving to do more harm than good.

The Green-Screen Effect

The Halloween tragedy at Itaewon sent shockwaves throughout the globe. What was supposed to be a harmless night of fun turned into a devastating moment in history, involving the lives of at least 151 innocent people.

Following the tragedy, TikTok lit up with users reporting the event using the ‘Green Screen’ effect. But aside from the first-hand accounts of survivors’ sharing details that major news outlets couldn’t get a hold of just yet, there was a slurry of users taking advantage of the tragedy to boost their engagement and followers. Users who had nothing to do with the incident took it upon themselves to provide social commentary by simply regurgitating the heartbreaking facts layered over videos and images from the incident using the “Green-screen” effect

Doom Scrolling

Watch a couple more of the same videos, and you’ll be inspired to take action—which these days often means sharing about the incident on your own feed, adding fuel to the fire and feeding the algorithm even more. While Gen-Z “grew up” with social media, it doesn’t mean they are equipped to digest and interpret the information, let alone know how to feel or what to do about it.

This 24/7 accessible content has given rise to a phenomenon called ‘doomscrolling’ or ‘doom surfing’, which essentially entails binge-watching the world’s collapse into crisis. Doomscrolling became a thing during the peak of COVID-19 when everything online made it seem like the world was ending. The millions of Coronavirus deaths worldwide, the spike in unemployment rates, homelessness, poverty, and racial injustice just didn’t seem to end.

As you can predict, it significantly affects one’s mental health. Even if the symptoms may not be obvious, it can inadvertently send your mind racing, provoking anxiety, and distress, which can lead to sleepless nights. Left to spiral, it soon impacts your quality of life.

Another Side Of The Story

But although someone who gets their news from Tik-Tok is probably more likely to come across fringe conspiracy theories at some point, the trend also reflects something positive: the re-emergence of citizen journalism. 

Big news organisations hold a monopoly on the news we consume. As a result, we are often served a sterilised version of the true story. Sometimes it almost seems that you’re not getting the whole picture, and you are hard-pressed to find genuine perspectives from the global south. Or even just the average working person in mainstream news media. 

In that sense, the emergence of a countercurrent to big corporate news can be a positive thing. Even though it may come with some challenges, theoretically, it can provide an alternative news source giving you a perspective usually withheld in mainstream news. And to those that worry that this type of media will be used to spread insane conspiracy theories—have you ever watched Fox News? It really can not get much worse than that!

Fact Vs Fiction

TikTok is a breeding ground for information and misinformation. The latter can have serious consequences, especially in the aftermath of a catastrophic event. We also can’t ignore the terrible effects it can have on victims directly impacted by the tragedy. They must scroll past horrific details and images repeatedly by users who want to gain clout from their pain. It can be tricky to distinguish between fact and fiction, even for adults, so it is alarming that Gen-Zers frequently turn to TikTok for news and entertainment.

It is estimated that we spend an average of seven hours a day online: that’s a lot of content to consume! While TikTok is a good source of “unfiltered” information, you can’t escape the third-party opinions who want to be heard for the mere purpose of growing their follower count. As TikTok reporting becomes increasingly prevalent, so must digital literacy efforts intensify to protect us from the potential side effects of doomscrolling and its impact on our overall health.