That TikTok is on the trajectory to become the next social media giant is a statement hard to argue against.
The platform currently boasts around one billion users worldwide, coming in behind Facebook (2.6bn) and Instagram (1.4bn). But TikTok, launched in 2016, took only four years to reach the billion-user milestone, whereas the other two took a decade.
More than its impact on user numbers, conversations regarding TikTok can also open a can of worms.
The short-video style platform is steadily mainstreaming discussions on class and wealth – away from living rooms and classrooms.
Even in Bangladesh, the platform has quickly stirred up the divide: it isn’t the same as Facebook vs Instagram, which is different-age groups bickering over which social media is cooler.
In Bangladesh, people from urban areas, particularly in Dhaka, often view TikTok videos made by individuals from rural backgrounds or a specific class as either “cringy” or funny.
This perception came up as TikTok has so far been the only social media platform to bridge the gap between urban experiences and rural ones.
Unlike Instagram, TikTok doesn’t need its users to add a layer of wealth – real or imagined – to each of their posts.
Urban residents, who are more familiar with modern trends, might find the traditional elements and simple production style of rural TikTok videos strange or dramatically exaggerated.
This contrast in preferences can make city dwellers feel either uncomfortable or amused, as they tend to prefer content that is more “polished” and in line with current trends.
Within the realm of TikTok in Bangladesh, numerous Facebook pages are dedicated to showcasing funny or dramatic content. Notably, there is a Facebook group called “Cringe TikTok for Remove Your Anxiety” with an impressive membership of 13,000 individuals.
Now, let’s consider some questions.
Do these videos truly help alleviate depression or anxiety? Do they genuinely bring happiness when watched and shared?
The answers may vary among different people. Some may find these videos uncomfortable and not funny, while others may genuinely experience happiness and a momentary escape from their worries.
This leads us to another question: Who are the creators behind this so-called “cringe” content? And do they knowingly function as “cringe” content creators?
Is the use of dramatic dialogues or songs deliberately used to provoke laughter? Or is it misunderstood, lost in translation?
The most convenient answer would be that many of them are individuals who have migrated from rural areas to urban centres in search of better opportunities.
As rural migrants embrace urbanisation and technology, they find themselves at a crossroads between their traditional roots and the opportunities presented by modernity.
TikTok, perhaps, provides a platform to negotiate this change and showcase a user’s talent and humour.
The platform acts as a medium through which users can live their fantasies and momentarily escape from the challenges of their daily lives.
For some, their culture – the experiences, the sense of humour, the culture – contrasts against, and often challenges, those who have gone far too long without being in touch with their roots.
The phenomenon of cheap labour migration plays a significant role in the emergence of this trend.
Many individuals are forced to leave their rural homes in search of better opportunities and economic stability in the city. However, this migration often results in a detachment from their cultural heritage and a loss of identity. TikTok becomes an outlet for them to express their creativity while grappling with the challenges of urban life.
TikTok has become a platform where users invest considerable effort to create entertaining videos, incorporating dramatic experiences, catchy sound effects, voice-overs, acting skills, and even slow-motion effects. The dedication and determination showcased in crafting these videos highlight users’ commitment to bringing their imaginative visions to life.
TikTok is also wildly popular among the Gen Z, who are more interested in punching up then down. It’s why they eschew aesthetics in exchange for more real settings. It’s also why #middleclasscheck was a viral hashtag on the platform.
While the medium offers a space for self-expression, challenges have emerged regarding its usage in Bangladesh.
The road ahead
Recently, the authority of Lalbagh Fort banned the creation of TikTok videos on its premises due to disruptions caused by individuals occupying spaces and engaging in arguments with other visitors. These incidents underscore the importance of responsible usage and respect for others’ experiences while enjoying the platform.
Responsible usage is indeed a concern. The platform removed 3.4 million videos created by Bangladeshi users, with Bangladesh ranking 7th globally for the highest number of videos taken down.
In the realm of TikTok personalities, one figure who has gained immense popularity is “Opu Bhai.” With millions of followers, he is known for his unique hairstyle, distinctive catchphrases, and expressive gestures in his videos.
However, it is worth noting that Opu Bhai faced legal consequences in 2020 when he was arrested on charges related to assault, harassment, and physical altercations with individuals in the Uttara area of the capital.
Another TikTok video featuring Bayezid Talha went viral, but it landed him in trouble. He was arrested in 2022 for a case filed against him, accusing him of tampering with the nuts and bolts on the railing of Padma Bridge.
Tragically, on June 11, 2023, a devastating incident occurred in Lalmonirhat, where two friends lost their lives while recording TikTok videos. The unfortunate incident took place when a truck collided with its motorcycle, highlighting the need for caution and safety while engaging in such activities.
On the contrary, TikTok has emerged as a powerful platform that is positively impacting people’s lives in several ways in Bangladesh as well.
TikTok has provided a creative outlet for individuals to express themselves and showcase their talents. The platform has given aspiring artists, dancers, comedians, and content creators the opportunity to share their skills and gain recognition both locally and globally. This has created a thriving creative community, fostering a sense of pride and accomplishment among talented individuals in Bangladesh.
TikTok has indeed left an indelible mark on the people of Bangladesh, serving as a transformative platform for creativity, self-expression, and community engagement.
But whether the problematic discourses it sparks are dealt with is the consequence we must wait and see.