How TikTok and Social Media Change Our Group Identity

Throughout United States history, we have seen many protests, movements, political movements, etc., make an incredible change to how we live. Joshua Meyrowitz, in his book No Sense of Place, explores how dramatic these social changes (most notably in the late 1960’s the early 1970’s) could have been linked to the change in media at the time, the television. In 2020 today, I think we can see many similarities to the period Meyrowitz describes, yet with the effects of today’s social media and the internet.

In chapter 4, Meyrowitz explores how ‘information systems’ (significantly television) influence society's social roles and categories. There are three main concepts from this chapter to further prove how information can exhibit change. First, any change to shared information groups will inevitably change. For example, New Yorkers who meet in Georgia may feel an immediate bond that unites them against Georgians. At the same time, however, a Georgian and a New Yorker who meet in Italy may feel a similar connection because they are both American. Second, during “becoming,” socialization or the transition from role to role is closely related to the access those groups have to “special” information systems. An example of this role transition would be; a child transitioning into adulthood. Children gradually gain knowledge and socialization from role-to-role throughout stages of childhood into adulthood. Lastly, authority is enhanced when information systems are isolated oppositely; authority is weakened when information systems are merged. An example of this would be when a doctor goes to the mechanic to get their car fixed, they probably would not question the mechanic’s diagnostics, and oppositely when the mechanic goes to the doctor their likely not to question their diagnostic because they do not have the authority provided by the information to do so.

In analyzing Meyrotiz’s social concepts changes in correlation to the development, I want to apply some of these same arguments to the internet today in October 2020. All three concepts overlap and concern the internet; I’ll be focused on group identity. These varying concepts emerged and brought about social change that occurred in the 1960s and ’70s, as Meyrowitz argues, and can be applied to social and policy issues, and movements, in 2020. I want to examine how one particular new social media app TikTok has influenced the structure of society’s roles and communication in social group identity. TikTok is a social media app that is free and allows anyone to download and upload content in the video format. Anyone can see these videos if the authors’ privacy rights allow for it. By breaking the social role of group identity into three variables, as Meyrowitz outlined; Relative access to social information, backstage / onstage distinctions, and access to physical locations.

“A group is held together by what is special about it, in this ‘specialness’ consists of information that members have in common with each other and do not share with members of other groups” (Meyrowitz, 54). Group categorization on the social media app TikTok has become a topic of conversation on the app. You see many references to ‘sides of TikTok.’ You become on a ‘side of TikTok’ by interacting with similar videos, not to get the data specifics behind the app but, if you like a lot of cat videos, buy a lot of cat products, a lot of cat-related searches, you are most likely going to get ads for cats. Along with the cat ‘side of TikTok’, just about anything goes for groupings bound by the phrase ‘side of TikTok’ plants, cooking, makeup, age groups or generations, etc. This access to new information creates new groups through similar videos, creating a bond and ‘othering’ different ‘TikTok’ sides. As new media on this app emerges and sides change, our sense of identity changes along with people’s sense of ‘us’ and ‘them.’

TikTok is undoubtedly a place where information, true or false, can spread incredibly fast, with little professionalism or notoriety from the individual. So, let’s say a professional ballerina post a TikTok video of her secret, making her pointe shoes more comfortable and performing better on stage, and 50,000 people see the video. The group with a backstage view of the ballerina’s secret is exposed to a much larger audience. This video, therefore, just allowed access to professional ballerina information that can now be accessed. Let’s say to all the dance studios who don’t house professional ballerinas. These occurrences where private information is posted to videos on TikTok intrudes on one’s sense of group identity. Who is a professional ballerina now that everyone knows the secret to better performance? “Complementary roles always depend on restricted access to backstage situations and the information available in them” (Meyrowitz, 56). With new information being shown in TikTok videos, it eliminates the complementary role of backstage information that distinguishes it from the onstage performance that the audience doesn’t have access to, therefore rearranging group identity.

Physical location is one of the most drastic differences the internet brings for many things, especially in the pandemic world of 2020. Traditionally group identities were ties to a relationship between a physical place and information access. This bond created between physical place and shared information distinguishes the group from others that don’t occur in the same manner. “Electronic media may begin to blur previously distinct group identities by allowing people to ‘escape’ informationally from place-defined groups by permitting outsiders to ‘invade’ many groups territories without ever entering them” (Meyrowitz, 57). The example above about the ballerina can be applied here. The ballerinas Tikok video allows outsiders to invade what was once knowledge for distinct individuals in the ballerina’s group. People have invaded this information that was not in the original group that learned the ballerina’s secrets.

Overall, TikTok and the internet hold to Meyrowitz’s evaluation of how media systems (then the television) interfere and shape social interactions, roles, and group identity over time. TikTok is a social media platform that has created much new information for so many different varying groups. This app is consumed by billions of young and old members who consume data that create group identities before they even know it.