Tiktok: The Real Reels

A look into each social media platform’s popularity among students

Many trends that originated on TikTok are directly replicated on Reels. For example, here, the creator starts with the camera in front of their face, then turns to the side to reveal them lip syncing behind their hand, admitting that they are “singing along if…” as the caption reads.

Snapchat is the most popular social media platform among American teens as of December 2020, reports Markets Insider. TikTok is close behind—despite only being launched in 2016—and Instagram follows, with around 20 percent of respondents saying Instagram is their favorite. What are the reasons for liking and disliking these different platforms?
TikTok seems to be the most controversial social media platform—you either hate it or love it. Freshmen Lily Gover, Bela Gowda, and Bella Gallus chose TikTok as their favorite. “I like TikTok because it’s fun to learn dances even if you’re not a dancer,” said Lily. “I also like sending videos to my friends.” Bela agreed, adding, “Instagram gets boring after a while, but there’s always a variety of things to see on TikTok.”
Pinterest is Shivani Kadia (‘24)’s favorite platform, because it’s the least negative––hate comments and controversial content are much less common. However, Shivani also added, “Videos on TikTok are quick, so you don’t need a long attention span. There are videos for everyone.” While she prefers fashion videos––OOTD (Outfit of the Day)’s, clothing hacks and tutorials, and shopping hauls being popular examples––people with other interests can also find fun videos on the platform. For instance, Sophia Gleeson (‘24)’s feed consists mostly of funny, relatable, or informative videos about musical theatre, since that’s what she’s interested in.
One of the reasons why TikTok is controversial is simply because of how addicting it is, which is why some choose to stay away from it. “I decided to delete TikTok because I spent too much time on it, to the point where it was starting to take over my day-to-day life,” said Jessica Luo (‘24). “I started to become more lazy—I would just [lie] in bed watching TikTok all day.” She stated proudly that March 2021 is her one-year anniversary without TikTok.
Although she did not delete the app, Emeraude Westlake (‘24) has the same reasoning. “I like Instagram because it’s fun but not as addicting as TikTok,” she said. Tiktok’s unique algorithm is what makes it so addictive, with an average of 52 minutes a day that users spend on the app. It caters directly to your interests by predicting your preferences. The endless feed, or For You Page, recommends videos to you based on similar users’ activity and your past content interactions.
Platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, whose popularity are being threatened by TikTok, are making an effort to gain back the ground that they lost. Instagram’s solution was to create an in-app feature very similar to TikTok known as Reels. It allows users to create 15-second videos to popular music, as well as providing an array of filters and effects to go on top of them. The videos have gained some popularity among Instagram users, like Noa Tang (‘24), who stated that “videos on Reels are engaging and fun to watch.” However, Reels has also received backlash from TikTok users, like popular creator @nmillz1 who complained that most Reels are just downloaded TikTok videos re-shared on Instagram.
With less success, Snapchat introduced its Spotlight feature in late 2020. To encourage more Spotlight entries, Snapchat began paying shares of up to $1 million to users who create viral videos. At first glance, it looks identical to TikTok, with its short videos that are meant to be funny, satisfying, or cute. But that’s where the similarities end, especially when it comes to popularity. None of the twelve students interviewed reported enjoying the Spotlight videos, as they are boring and sometimes unpleasant. “Spotlight videos are my last resort when I really have nothing else to do,” says Sophia. “I watched them a couple times, but I don’t plan on going back to them anytime soon.” Additionally, TikTok caters to your interests over time, while Spotlight’s algorithm does not seem to enforce this method as aggressively.
Nonetheless, Snapchat doesn’t need to worry about its popularity plummeting too soon. It still ranks as the most popular social media platform among U.S. teens, with 265 million users worldwide. Although TikTok is undeniably a large competitor, some students still chose Snapchat as their favorite. For example, Ripples Turquand (‘24) loves Snapchat since it’s an easy way to communicate with friends. Lexi Black (‘24) agrees, saying, “With Snapchat, I can keep up with my friends in a more casual way than texting.”
Are Snapchat and Instagram doing enough to maintain their popularity while TikTok entertains over a billion users, sucking them in to watch hours’ worth of short videos? Only time will tell, but for now, Instagram users can have fun being behind on all the trends and watching their knockoff TikToks on Reels.