Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! For the next few Tuesdays, internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings will be using this space to update you all on what’s been going on in the world of TikTok. Is there something you want to see more of? Less of? Different of? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.
Two months ago, I remember watching TikToks from Wuhan, China, of life under lockdown. Videos showed empty city streets and grocery store shelves, as well as the boredom, anxiety, and even weird moments of joy that come with quarantine. It seemed so far off then, like a natural disaster halfway across the world, and beyond the many Americans with family and friends in China, it felt like all most of us could do was donate, send thoughts and prayers, and watch.
The coronavirus outbreak, of course, did not end up being like a contained natural disaster. Two months later, Americans too are under unofficial lockdown, with some cities enforcing shelter in place laws and everywhere else encouraging people to stay home, practice social distancing, and only shop for groceries or pick up medicine when necessary.
TikTok timelines, as a result, are now filled with seemingly nothing but quarantine content. I’ve seen high schoolers tell stories of canceled sports seasons, proms, graduations, and study abroad programs. I’ve seen college kids say they’ve got nowhere else to go after being forced to move out of their dorms, adults who’ve been laid off, and pregnant women say how scared they are to know they won’t be able to have loved ones in the delivery room (Business Insider has a roundup of a lot of these stories).
At the same time, I’ve seen so many cute, goofy videos of families holed up together and hanging out, of kids teaching their parents dance challenges, of coronavirus comedy sketches and DIY craft and cooking projects.
It reminds me of what I’d seen in the quarantine videos in Wuhan, and so I called up one creator who lived through it. Daniel Ou Yang, a 22-year-old who’d been visiting family in Wuhan for Lunar New Year, made a video of his newly empty city that garnered more than a million views. He was able to leave on an evacuation flight because he’s an Australian citizen, but now that he’s back in Sydney, he’s watching it all play out again.
“People are going to gatherings and getting close with each other, thinking that it can’t happen to me because there are only 100 cases here,” he told me. “No one takes it seriously unless it happens to them.”
Videos out of China and now Italy have served as warnings for what Americans and those in the rest of the world can expect in the weeks to come. So far, the US government has proven largely ill-prepared for the outbreak, and as there’s still no consensus on how long it’ll be before things begin to seem normal, TikTok has proven an unexpectedly useful platform for coping. Here’s my full story.
TikTok in the news
- TikTok is hosting a week of influencer livestreams called #HappyAtHome, which will feature popular TikTok creators like Brittany Tomlinson and Addison Rae, plus famouses like Tyra Banks, Alicia Keys, and Dr. Phil speaking live from their homes. They’ll be giving motivational talks, dance lessons, and other quarantine content every night this week starting at 5 pm PT.
- Speaking of celebrities, every day it feels like a zillion more famous people join TikTok. My feed has been filled with Victoria’s Secret models and basketball players recently, but by far the best celebrity debut was US men’s national soccer team player Christian Pulisic, who posted a video of himself kicking around a ball and then absolutely eating it.
- In other company news, TikTok announced its new content advisory council, which will “provide unvarnished views on and advice around TikTok’s policies and practices as we continually work to improve in the challenging area of content moderation.” The move is likely a direct response to multiple reports of shady content moderation policies, most recently detailed by the Intercept, which found that TikTok was suppressing content by what it deemed “ugly” and “poor” users in an effort to appeal to more users.
- Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty influencer content house has shut down temporarily due to coronavirus concerns. So far, though, most of the others seem to be operating normally, (the Hype House is dropping merch this week), and while some members of other houses have been staying with family, social distancing doesn’t seem to be destroying the collab house economy just yet.
- VidCon has officially canceled its June event, which is a) obviously the right call and b) a bummer for TikTok creators, who last year emerged as the biggest draw of the formerly YouTube-centric convention. They’re working on a fall date, though, so stay tuned.
This probably says more about me than it does about TikTok as a whole, but my entire timeline is full of people saying “screw it” and cutting their own bangs or dyeing their hair an extremely impractical color. This is beautiful, in my opinion, as someone who thinks everyone should try bangs at least once and particularly during a time when the stakes of “beauty” and “personal grooming” are at an all-time low.
It’s the age of quarantine hair experiments, and it’s one of the few sources of joy in my life right now. I loved Joseph Longo’s piece in Mel Magazine on gay men crisis-bleaching their hair, and feeling the urge to do something drastic even when all your loved ones beg you not to. There have always been memes about the danger of breakup haircuts, but when it feels like you’re broken up with the whole world, there’s really never been a better time to try questionable hair. Yesterday, for instance, I followed an at-home haircut tutorial on TikTok, and then made another one while dyeing my hair pink.
There are literally no rules right now, plus, most people end up looking cute! At the very least, they look fun, which is something we all need. Just definitely don’t watch this one video of a girl encouraging everyone to get bangs and then showing what happened when she did it. The bangs do not look good, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look good on you!
One Last Thing
Here is a video of a girl showing her therapist what TikTok is by performing a dance in the middle of her session. I sincerely hope it’s real, and also I would like the email address of that therapist.