Ethiopians Getting Taste of Tiktok Phenomenon

TikTok allows individuals to record and share videos of themselves or others engaged in activities to their followers and the large number of users on the platform. It assumes a video-sharing community that is real, raw, and without boundary. One of the most significant marks of TikTok is that it has provided ‘creative freedom’ to normal people which was once limited to only celebrities. Launched in 2016 by the Chinese technology company ByteDance, the social media platform is now attracting more and more Ethiopians to its pool. While some Ethiopians are turning the platform to their advantage by making it a source of their livelihoods, others are wasting their precious time on it. In this article, EBR’s Trualem Asmare looks into the overall impact of the TikTok phenomenon on Ethiopian society.

In Ethiopia, as is the case in the rest of the world, more and more young men and women are using TikTok to share their creativity, opinions, and their fun time with their followers. The number of active social media users in Ethiopia is 6.35 million as of 2022 with a growing number of those found on TikTok. For many creators, the platform is serving as a vehicle to get subscriptions on YouTube and Instagram. The creators on the social media are not limited to actors, actresses, and comedians only. Various professionals like doctors, engineers, and psychologists are using this platform and sharing their knowledge in Ethiopian languages—creating the opportunity for wider consumption and thus, business opportunities.

“After I started making TikTok videos and became known, I did promotion works for about 50 companies,’’ said Bereket Tadesse, a 26-year-old Social Media Influencer. His TikTok account is named 4 Kilo Entertainment and has 266,000 followers.

Bereket first opened his TikTok account during the pandemic and many of his videos are entertaining by nature. His primary intention was to get subscribers to his YouTube channel which is monetized. As his followers grew on TikTok, however, he saw an even better opportunity beyond being a platform to put his comedic skills on full display.

“I first won a challenge promoted on the platform that earned me my first ETB100,000,” Bereket told EBR. “As I now also do advertisements on my channel, it is making me more than a million a year.”

Bereket, who never even envisioned the kind of money he is making now, says he is now supporting his family and plans to launch his own comedic production company.

Not all TikTok users have turned the platform to their advantage, however. Fake accounts, scams, adult sites, and harassment—all time-wasting and psychologically damaging—are well visible. As it is a booming app, students aged 10 and above are heavily addicted to it. The app has created such an environment that people do almost anything to increase their likes, views, and followers. This has led to a number of unethical practices and accidents in some cases.

Joshua Haileyesus, a resident around Denver in the United States of Ethiopian descent, died in April 2021 attempting a challenge he saw on TikTok. His twin brother found him passed out in the bathroom of the family’s home with local media reporting that Joshua’s father, Haileyesus Zerihun, said that a few days prior, he bragged to his brother about being able to hold his breath for a minute. The so-called “blackout challenge” on TikTok dared users to choke themselves until they passed out.

“Unbeknownst to his parents, Joshua had been playing this dangerous game completely unaware of the risks involved,” the GoFundMe page said. “I don’t know why people would do such things,” Zerihun told media. “This is not a joke. This is not a thing to play with.”

Helen Alemu, a 30-year-old woman who spends much of her day managing her own small business, shares her experience on the platform.

“I use TikTok a lot; I can say I am one of those who are addicted,” Helen told EBR. “I can understand the argument about how the platform could cause hatred through the various hate speeches one might encounter, but it has a lot of educational content, too.”

Despite the useful material Helen is viewing, she also admits how it is interfering with her daily routine as someone who manages a small business.

While the application can be used to spread positivity, it can also be used as a platform for bullying. Many people post negative comments on the videos and harass the creators, making the most of their anonymity. Some people use the app to criticize other people’s videos, while some users create videos deriding others. Besides the fun and entertainment, numerous users display sensitive, distasteful, and violent content.

Many people deliberately share unfavorable content on the platform. A person’s self-esteem might be morally damaged by just one hateful statement. Also, while kids prefer the platform, it may have a disastrous effect on their self-esteem. Similar to the widespread effects of other social media sites, an envy of peers who post better photos and videos can be hurtful to many teenagers. In a similar vein, persons who compare themselves to their TikTok profile experience leads to increased depression. These kids’ self-esteem could suffer if they try to live up to the expectations of their social media followers, which could even lead to suicidal thoughts.

The effects of excessive exposure to sexual content on youngsters and society at large is another factor. The search for sexually explicit information determines growth and success, just as it does for Google search and the internet as a whole. In their book, ‘A Billion Wicked Thoughts,’ engineers who once worked for Google acknowledge how the platform’s development has been aided by users looking for sexual content. There is no exception with TikTok, particularly for users outside of China.

TikTok is also accused of overpromising payment to its creators. One of the things about the social media platform that was meant to make it different from other platforms was that it promised to pay those who created and shared content on the platform. Other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram do not pay creators even though they benefit financially from users’ creations.

According to a recent investigation by the BBC, TikTok’s promise of paying creators is overrated. One of the ways of making money on the platform is by getting more than 1,000 followers, which would allow a creator to go live and directly meet with followers. During live sessions, followers who are attending the session might throw digital gifts at the creator, which can be changed into actual money. BBC’s investigation found that more than 70Pct of that money goes back to the platform, making the promise overrated.

Keeping aside the negative impacts of TikTok, there are a lot of advantages to it. It allows us to post videos about our profession and share knowledge with others, helping us to sharpen our own skills. Also, content creators can harness their art and skills. This application has made it possible for small creators to reach a wider audience. Likewise, it has also shaped the advertising scenario quite differently. We don’t need to mention that Tiktok is full of excellent creators who can keep us entertained for hours in a not-so-pleasant world.EBR

11th Year • Oct 2022 • No. 111

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