Should TikTok addicted students be cautious this semester?

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Student scrolling through Tik Tok while assignments are open. 30 August, 2023. Photo taken by DJ Cabanlong / Scarlet and Gray

Be honest, did you spend the majority of your time this summer scrolling through your “For You” page? Check your screen time. Will TikTok dominate your data?

Established in 2016, TikTok is currently the most successful startup in the world. The application is used for creating and sharing short videos for any topic imaginable, such as skits, dancing, fan edits, comedy and a multitude of other categories. The younger generations, Gen Z and Millennials, dominate the application’s global audience with nearly half of its users being under the age of 34 according to BusinessofApps.

The majority of UNLV’s students are in that statistic. However, with the continuing rise of TikTok’s popularity, students should be cautious this semester. If not careful, TikTok will, if it hasn’t already, impact their academic performance.

Dr. Kendall Hartley is an associate professor of educational technology with over 20 years of education experience at UNLV. He had previously conducted a study analyzing the connection between UNLV students’ GPAs and their overall phone usage.

“My research focused on how much students were using their smartphones. I was particularly studying first-year students, and the data I gathered was clear that the folks who had better habits when it came to the smartphone earned a much higher GPA than the first years who had poor habits.”`

A student’s high phone usage is the result of social media’s addictive nature, especially TikTok. ByteDance, a Chinese tech firm, created the AI software that TikTok uses to keep its audience hooked. By observing the user’s likes, comments and even how long they watch each video, the AI technology quickly learns the individual’s preferences. 

The app’s short video format helps TikTok build algorithms quickly for each user. This AI recipe is the reason for the app’s success and why experts caution others against TikTok’s addictive nature. TikTok users spend about 52 minutes per day on the app, and during that time frame, they watch over 200 videos, including targeted ads according to INSEAD.

Dr. Hartley further elaborates on this, “We are in what’s called an ‘attention economy’ now, so all of our attention is worth money to folks and young folks in particular. So the more they can keep you online, the more ads they can show you, and the more likely you are to buy things they have to sell.”

If you are aware you have an addiction to social media, TikTok in particular, don’t brush it off. Social media addiction should be taken just as seriously as other addictions. 

“From my understanding, anytime an addiction begins to adversely impact your ability to go on with your life in a normal fashion, you know, whether that be your job, relationships, health, then it’s certainly a problem…so yeah it [social media] can cause serious problems for folks.”

As the fall semester starts to pick up, students will be forced to face hard deadlines, exams and an array of other stressors. To relieve this stress, many students tend to use social media as an outlet, however, a study conducted by Sriwilai and Charoensukmonkol from the National Institute of Development Administration, in Bangkok, Thailand showed that those who become too addicted or dependent on social media will likely rely on emotional-coping skills rather than problem-solving skills to deal with their stress. In other words, social media-addicted students are likely to use social media to emotionally disassociate from the source of their anxiety instead of resolving it.

Dr. Hartley advises students on how to balance their studies and social media, “The best thing to do with your smartphone while you are studying is to, at a minimum, turn off all notifications. Maybe the better option is to power it off or give it to somebody, then try to set aside time where you can focus on your studies and use the Pomodoro technique. That’s just essentially a 24-minute timer, you focus on some work for 24 minutes and then you take a 5 minute break.”

With TikTok’s steadfast empire consuming our generation’s attention span, students need to be wary this semester. TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular social media platforms in the digital world, and without self-awareness, students’ academic performance will quickly decline. This semester, students should use the appropriate steps to balance their time on TikTok and time spent focusing on their studies.

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