America’s Tiktokification

Frank S. Robinson
3 min readMar 30, 2024

March 30, 2024

Nowadays people get their news not from Cronkhite-like broadcasts or newspapers but more commonly from the internet, mainly social media, like Facebook. Programmed to feed them stuff that gets their juices flowing — much of it fake news and inflammatory content — driving political polarization and craziness.

But wait. That picture is actually so 2020. The landscape has changed — again.

The internet still does shape how many people engage with the world. In fact the hours spent scrolling on phones continue to grow. Social media began as vehicles for people to connect and share with each other, and becoming a “digital town square in which arguments of the day are thrashed out and public opinion is shaped.” (To quote The Economist.) Driving movements like #metoo, #Blacklivesmatter, wokism and Trumpism.

But then Tiktok took over the world. “Banning” it actually won’t make much difference; copycats are coming to the fore. Because it turns out that what people really want is not so much all that news-like and political stuff but, rather, entertaining short little videos.

Older rival platforms have taken notice. Musk now claims X (ex-Twitter) is “video-first.” It’s also taking over Facebook, where social interaction has been relegated to a minority of users’ viewing time — and Facebook says news now makes up less than 3% of what people see there.

Such platforms are finding that cute little videos not only excel at gaining eyeballs — and thus ad revenue, which is after all the name of the game — but avoids so much criticism they’d gotten over their handling of politically-freighted content. News just isn’t worth all the hassle it entails.

Anyhow, going hand-in-hand with decreasing coverage of public affairs is less online political engagement. All that sharing, retweeting, commenting, arguing, is greatly diminishing.

One unfortunate fallout is that those who do still engage politically online tend to be the more highly opinionated with extreme views. While more normal people increasingly shun that freak show.

I’m not against entertainment. But isn’t at least a little knowledge important? And we’re seeing another downward lurch there — a further dumbing-down. The 2006 comedy film Idiocracy grows ever more prescient.

For most everyday folks, their ambits of concern don’t much encompass what’s going on in the wider world, which tends to be a dim blur. Leaving the field, again, to the zealots — with regular people even less equipped to counter them.

Indeed, with less news being presented to us overall, the proportion that is crap (as opposed to reliable, responsible mainstream media sourced) rises.

Add into the picture local journalism’s death spiral — and now too AI — and I cringe to think what our civic culture will look like in another decade or two.