I swipe up. A pudgy boy— maybe 13— wearing a ball-cap, graphic tee, and athletic shorts, strolls into a Starbucks. “Do you guys have cakes?” he asks, outlining the shape of a cake with an exaggerated hand gesture. “Well you do now!” he exclaims before the employee has a chance to reply. In one rehearsed motion the boy rotates sideways, drops into a squat, lowers his hands to his knees, and gyrates his torso in a languid twerking motion— all while keeping his eyes fixated on the employee. A short succession of air bursts leave my nose. A gaping smile spans my face, followed by a rush of irrepressible laughter. In hysterics, my neck cranes backwards and my head drops over the backrest of my desk chair. At this moment, I am “dead.” Or, as the comments section says, “EVAPORATING.”
My ‘for you page’ has, once again, done me right. Like Jordan and Pippen, the Tik Tok algorithm and I work in tandem— I swipe, like, and comment, and the algorithm does the rest, providing me with an unremitting flow of hilarious content. After six months of steady consumption, my ‘fyp’ has become a collection of indecorous dances, Vine-esque comedy skits, and motivational videos, among other things. I watch the video a few more times, closing my eyes and letting laughter take over my body. I send it to all of my Tik Tok friends, as well as a few Snapchat groups. But, as I wait for their responses, a feeling of dissatisfaction pervades my mind. I need to share this bliss with someone. Hm, I think, maybe my brother. No, he’d call me an idiot. Maybe my sister? No, she’d call me an idiot, too. My mom would think it’s funny. Actually, no, she’d call me an idiot. Damn, am I an idiot?
As most users are aware, the Tik Tok algorithm is a system of operations responsible for crafting your “for you page”: the feed of videos you will experience while scrolling through the app. But what exactly is generating the sudden appearance of Addison Rae doing the ‘WAP’ on your fyp? As Tik Tok recently publicized, your fyp is based on three factors: user interactions, video information, and device and account settings. This means that any time you like, comment, or share a video, you should expect to see similar content on your ‘fyp.’As you use the app, Tik Tok will take into account the captions, sounds, and hashtags that you interact with, as well as your language preference, country and device type. Additionally, Tik Tok has developed an “indicators of interest” system which factors in the duration of viewing, as well as the proximity between consumers and creators, among other things. So, if you’re looking for more Addison Rae videos, like, comment, and share Addison Rae videos. She has been taking a lot of heat recently, so maybe I’ll dish her a like on her next video. Then again, her transformation into a Kardashian is leaving me uncertain about her future. I digress.
Sometimes, though, the bizarre direction in which the algorithm behaves may leave you asking “how the hell is this on my fyp?” For Bowdoin sophomore Ean Small, this was exactly the case. “Frog Tik Tok was probably the epitome of my weird Tok phase— I would get tons of videos of frogs sitting up straight,” says the bio-chem-loving weight-lifter. “Not to say that I wasn’t excited, because it definitely sparked some joy in my life,” he adds, “but, nevertheless, definitely weird.”
Another sophomore and photography lover, Michy Martinez, found herself perplexed by the behavior of her ‘fyp.’ “There were these Tik Toks that said if you interact with these rare sounds something good will happen to you on August 27th, which I never did,” she admits. “And guess what,” she continues, raising her voice, “I got a notification back on August 27th that I tested positive for rona!” she shouts, laughing in disbelief at the “coincidence.”
If Tik Tok’s algorithm is really as prophetic as it seems, Bowdoin Women’s Lacrosse star Josephina Caico (and her boyfriend) are in for a dramatic change in lifestyle. “I keep ending up on lesbian Tok,” she says. “For like a month I was only on lesbian Tok, and now I’m just on gay Tok.” Despite the algorithm’s inconsistent evaluation of her sexual orientation, she is seemingly satisfied with her experience on ‘gay tok,’ stating “honestly, I love it.”
Whether you understand the algorithm or not, one thing is for certain; it understands you. As scary as it may seem, the system dictating your feed is incredibly powerful— powerful enough to captivate over 800 millions users in the last few years. So, is Tik Tok’s revered algorithm making mistakes, or do you rightfully belong to a strange enclave of frog-lovers? Is it a coincidence that your ‘fyp’ has prophesied your health? And, is your sexual orientation really as rigid as you think?
Ruminating over these implications can be daunting, but, like my fellow addicts, my consumption of Tik Tok cannot be halted. Ultimately— and despite Tik Tok’s ostensible access to our personal information— the solution might just be to continue forward in our blind, fervent, and unabashed indulgence of this magnificent app.
A few minutes pass. I open Tik Tok. The video is still up. “Well you do now!” reverberates blissfully in my head. Maybe I am an idiot, I think to myself, smiling.