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This week in TikTok: When doctors and nurses go viral

Health care workers are learning TikTok dances, too.

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Doctors and nurses are some of the most essential workers in the world right now. But in what little spare time they have, some are getting TikTok famous. Over at BuzzFeed, Tanya Chen wrote about TikTok-famous health care workers, some of whom have gone viral for sharing valuable information about how to stay safe during coronavirus, while others have been accused of exaggerating their involvement on the front lines and have faced questions about the appropriateness of what some see as turning a pandemic into an opportunity for fame.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Last spring, I wrote about popular doctors and nurses on Instagram and the rise of the health care influencer, a new opportunity in an industry often plagued by burnout, unpredictable hours, and, for some, low pay.


Nursing is Cindy’s day job #coronaviruschallenge #nurses #doctors #afterhours @pcimom @brennasue1023 @em.howard @purseynursey4040

♬ DJ Yames Mashup 2 - dj_yames

The risks here are real: It’s strikingly easy for anyone with a lab coat to present as a medical professional online, and many experts I spoke to expressed concerns about the category of people who work in medi-spas, esthetician practices, or as chiropractors spreading medical advice they aren’t qualified to give. In some of the worst cases, doctor influencers could also result in possible HIPAA violations.

During a pandemic, these concerns take on extra weight. That said, I think doctor influencers can provide a public good in an era when trust in many officials is low. There’s been some backlash to the viral videos of hospital workers doing choreographed TikTok dances, but, like, it’s cute! That we demand our health care workers be utterly devoid of joy during such a stressful time in their careers feels particularly cruel. Everybody on TikTok wants to go viral — it might as well be in the service of public health.

TikTok in the news

  • Last week, TikTok debuted new parental control settings that allow parents to link their accounts to their children’s, set screen time limits, turn on a restricted content mode, and, crucially, disable direct messages. That’s big for a company that last year was forced to pay a record (at that time) $5.7 million Federal Trade Commission fine over violating children’s privacy laws, and for a platform where there have been many accounts of predators attempting to lure kids over DMs. At the same time, none of the TikTokers I’ve interviewed regularly use the platform’s messaging tool anyway (Instagram’s is better!).
  • Meanwhile, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is one of the few places hiring new workers. They’re looking to fill 10,000 open jobs all around the globe, plus 3,000 internships, while many of its competitors in the tech space are struggling. You might have to move, though: Most aren’t in the US.
  • More creator drama! TikTok teen power couple Charli D’Amelio and Chase Hudson officially announced their breakup after weeks of speculation. While their statements were perfectly amicable, rumors that Hudson had sent flirty DMs to another popular TikToker led to a subsequent diss track and are providing me the messy influencer drama I’ve been so deprived of over the past month.

Meme watch

Vulture covered the trend of people doing their makeup while lip-syncing to John Mulaney bits, and it got me thinking about the convergence of comedy and beauty on TikTok. Beauty has long been a cornerstone of online video platforms, but early beauty YouTubers built huge followings with likable personalities and tutorials, which they then leveraged into million-dollar careers.

These days, TikTok is full of kids who were raised on beauty YouTube, and they’re using the skills they picked up to create a new kind of comedic genre. Every few scrolls, I see someone doing an Essex accent in parody Love Island makeup, painting memes as eyeshadow, or recreating their embarrassing seventh-grade hairstyles. TikTok is a perfect app for this: It provides a catchy visual to watch while you’re laughing at a meme. Even if you’re not preternaturally funny, you can just lip-sync to someone who is.

One Last Thing

Here is an extremely surreal short film wherein Lorde orders a cheeseburger and ends up in the hospital. I can’t explain it in any more detail than that because I’m not totally sure I understand it. Enjoy!

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