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TikTok is kind of bad now, right? The emphasis on shopping really bums me out.

Katie Notopoulos   

TikTok is kind of bad now, right? The emphasis on shopping really bums me out.
  • My beloved TikTok, the app I used to spend endless hours delighted by, has changed.
  • The emphasis on shopping and TikTok Shop ads has really bummed me out.

Something's changed with TikTok; I know you feel it, too. I used to happily scroll for hours, finding weird new things I never knew I wanted to see, finding funny videos to send friends.

But something recently is off.

Let's start with what deserves most of the blame: the TikTok Shop. When the Shop feature launched this fall, suddenly, my For You feed was flooded with posts of people selling stuff. It was disorienting: Shop posts have an orange label at the bottom, but it looks similar to the filter labels. For the first second or so of a Shop post, I'd be confused as to why this relatively boring video had shown up in my feed.

The emphasis on Shop content has two bad effects.

The first is the simple fact that I'm being shown lots more low-quality videos that I'm not actually interested in. I want drain-unclogging videos or a lady digging a tunnel under her house. Now I have to flip past three Shop posts to get those.

The second effect is more subtle but more devastating, in a way. The For You used to seem uncanny in how it would serve up content perfectly tailored to me. Now it feels like the algorithm is less a diagnostic tool of my soul and instead is assessing me as a potential consumer.

It used to be that TikTok would try to convince me I had undiagnosed ADHD; now, it just insists I want to buy Halara brand pants. (Seriously, I cannot open the app without seeing the Halara pants.)

There are some other less definable things that feel less fun about TikTok. One is that it feels like I'm being surprised and delighted by whimsy less than I used to be. It used to seem like I was dropped into strange other dramas, more weird and random niches. Now it feels stagnant — it's figured out what topics I like and it shows me more and more of those, what The New York Times recently described as being stuck on a cul-de-sac of TikTok's infinite scroll.

Social platforms go through lifecycles and stages, and it may well be that TikTok has hit some sort of plateau of enjoyable fun. One harbinger of this is what Rebecca Jennings for Vox describes as trendbaiting — there's this sort of knowing scramble to coin new microtrends like "loud budgeting" or "mob wife aesthetic" (which, as far as I can tell, exists mainly as a pretext for a discourse cycle lasting weeks that culminated in an inevitable video I saw Wednesday debating whether Italians are considered white).

Now I'm actually watching Reels?

In a truly twisted move, I've found myself more and more frequently spending time watching Instagram Reels. Reels is still way worse than TikTok: The content is awful and the algorithm is stupider. But in a demented way, it's refreshing. TikTok was showing me too much of stuff I actually like; I wanted to see stuff I HATE — gym bros, hustle culture, trad wives, crunchy hippie freaks, corny couples. I need to feel the cringe just to feel something.

I hold out hope that TikTok recovers from this weird stumble. Maybe the shopping content will get tamped down after it was promoted so hard; maybe the ways people use it will change, maybe the pendulum will swing back toward weird.

Or maybe this is the beginning of the end; the Red Giant phase of a platform where whatever made it so addictive in the first place has now bloated it before it implodes.

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

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