tiktok's intragenerational warfare

it'll be here soon

Every gigantic internet platform has a large and diverse crowd of users who fall into a bunch of demographics, so it’s tough to pigeonhole any of them. But if I were to try, I’d say Facebook is for boomers, Twitter is for millennials, and TikTok is for Gen Z. That feels mostly right to me, although all three platforms have plenty of users from each of these generations (and generations are just marketing buzzwords anyway).

I read a lot of coverage of TikTok and it is the latest thing that old people are obsessed with because they love to project. “I love these TikTok teens!!” someone will tweet about a video clearly depicting an adult who has a full-time job and owns a house. It’s weird.

TikTok is only the latest instance of teen fetishization, which has been going on forever. See 2015’s “What If Teens Aren’t Cool?” in Gawker:

Like the astronomer who looks through a telescope for answers because it can’t get any fucking worse than Earth, we’ve been self-loathingly teen-gazing forever. Maybe, we hope, this vast finger-banging herd holds the forbidden knowledge we’re lacking, an elixir for new thought and exciting creation that we can’t find in ourselves. We have to admit that even if teens aren’t Good, they’re still Exciting: we hate teens because they do radically dumb stuff like smoke meow meow and join ISIS, we also envy them for doing radically dumb stuff like smoking meow meow and joining ISIS. Despite (or because of) their irresponsibility and wickedness, teens have become a bellwether of innovation; if you can draw teens to your startup or app, thinks the fool, you’ve cracked some entrepreneurial code. My man, how lost and wrong you are.

Everyone claims to be interested in the teen perspective as if teens aren’t dumb. Has anyone ever looked back on their teen years and thought, “I was smart and I knew what I was talking about.”? Probably not. Maybe Malala or Greta Thunberg. Teens are very good at repeating back things adults say and twisting them just enough to seem novel. Last fall I had a conversation with some people from the photo app VSCO about how teen users were constantly “talking about mental health,” but the VSCO people couldn’t really articulate what that conversation actually was. Teens know about the concept? Teens are typing “I’m sad and stressed” online? I mean, sure.

Millennials love getting mad about teens who know nothing on TikTok, even though it makes sense that teenagers cannot identify music from when they were an infant. Many people got incensed about this video.

Similarly, Gen Z has some insults that they’ve cribbed from boomers and Gen Xers; mainly that millennials love avocado toast, BuzzFeed, and Harry Potter.

Eventually the teens currently lionized in trend pieces will become old and look to the new teens and hope that by knowing about the teens, they are somehow staving off irrelevance and death, in that order of priority.

Deep within the Gen Z stronghold of TikTok, intragenerational fault lines are starting to emerge. For millennials, there are similar technological demarcation lines. As Max Read asked in 2016, “Are you a Netflix-and-chill millennial, or a Fumbling-DVD-Menu-Sex millennial?” (Additionally: “When did you get on Facebook? When did you get on Snapchat? Did you steal music by shoplifting CDs, by torrenting album releases, or by listening to YouTube rips?”)

For Gen Z, the first big line in the sand is this: do you remember anything before Vine? Vine was a short-lived video site that let users post 6-second looping videos. It was extremely funny and inventive and — as usual — was mismanaged by parent company Twitter and shuttered in 2017 after just four years of existence. Its archive is in shambles on a technical level and now the best way to experience it is through lovingly compiled YouTube compilations.

On TikTok, there’s a trend of users sincerely or — more usually — jokingly outing themselves as the stars of old viral videos. (This newsletter has previously featured people falsely claiming to be the “look at all these chickens” girl and the “future U.S. army soldier.”)

Here’s the “I like turtles” kid (allegedly):

Here’s former Vine guy Josh Kwondike:

Here’s the kid from “drink this vodka down the hatch” Vine:

Trey from “Hi, my name is Trey” Vine (allegedly):

Here’s the glitter girl from Vine (allegedly):

I don’t think this guy is actually the Boston Dynamics robot:

With the exception of Kwondike and the “vodka down the hatch” kid, the rest of these claims to viral fame are extremely dubious. But they get results, because other people believe them or passionately don’t believe them. Commenters do math to determine ages before and after, or they claim to know the actual kid, or the original poster confesses that it was a joke. It’s the new and entirely unreliable iteration of “Where are they now?”

My point is that a certain subset of young TikTok users are invoking the specter of Vine in various ways — I found a couple posts of people stumbling across their own recycled audio — in order to create a very specific cultural moment. There is at least some irony in people pretending to be barely famous internet personalities to earn clout from an userbase that is already starting to forget the brief Vine years. Already, you can find videos of younger users who also don’t recognize popular Vines. Commenters claim supremacy by bragging about knowing all of these classic Vines, even if they weren’t around for Vine’s actual heyday.

Wanna feel old?

People love generational gatekeeping, even within their own cohort. Sooner than you think, the users on TikTok who don’t remember Vine will overpower those who do — just as Facebook eventually filled up with users who never ranked their Top 8 on MySpace. To me, these granular, intragenerational fights are more interesting than Boomers versus Gen X versus Millennials versus Zoomers, because age differences are felt more acutely when you’re younger. The gulf between 18 and 22 is far wider than the one between 56 and 60. What happens when the young internet users, the ones held up optimistically as the future of civilization, start to feel old themselves?

unfortunately, anyone who understands this has to report to a government-run reeducation camp; i don’t make the rules


  • Reddit banned a couple thousand toxic subforums on its site this weekend, including the popular r/The_Donald, which often served as a pipeline transporting meme-y content to the president’s Twitter feed. “At last!!” tweeted former CEO and board member Alexis Ohanian, who was in a position to do something years ago and chose not to.

  • “YEAH I’m a gamer”

  • here’s a weird YouTube page that I have to believe is some machine-learning experiment in fully automating the production of a children’s-entertainment channel

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