Global TikTok Frenzy Captures Unsuspecting UGA Students

When Joshua Pickens left for Costa Rica to study abroad in summer 2019, he had not yet heard of the app that would soon lead to his semi-celebrity status on his university campus. The laughter of other students on the trip from using TikTok, a popular short-form video sharing app, led Pickens to download it to his phone.

“Within the first week, I was trapped,” said Pickens, a senior University of Georgia real estate student. “I was cracking up laughing at these different videos. Through watching them, I was like, ‘I want to make one of these. These seem hilarious.’” 

 Why It’s Newsworthy: TikTok has rapidly expanded globally within the past year and is impacting how students interact at the University of Georgia. UGA has several prominent TikTok creators and even more casual users of the app who primarily watch other peoples’ videos.  


TikTok is a social media app that allows users to create and share up to 60-second videos that are often humorous and include users dancing along to popular songs. Since its creation in 2016 by the Chinese company ByteDance, the app has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times worldwide, creating a surge in interest particularly among Generation Z and college students.

At the University of Georgia, college students across campus are using the app to both watch videos and create them. Keely Cartrett, a UGA soccer player, has more than 415,000 followers on the app as of March 19.

@keelyameliawhen you start to relive ur dance days then realize why you quit for soccer ##soccer ##fyp ##dance ##foryou ##godawgsbaby ##uga♬ Stil D.R.E. Remix – thelilcg

Even the university itself started an account in November 2019.

@universityofgapuppy (bull)dog bouncin’ ##fyp ##uga ##godawgs ##dog ##puppy ##bulldog ##college ##puppydogbouncin ##georgiabulldogs♬ Puppy Dog (Bouncin in the Box) – RxckStxr

For Pickens, making his first videos on the app “brought [him] joy,” and he wanted to continue to consistently post videos. Pickens made it his goal in late October to create one video every day for the rest of the year. His goal was successful. Pickens still regularly posts videos, although he said he no longer feels the pressure to upload one each day. 

With more than 85,000 followers and the occasional recognition on campus, Pickens said the lessons learned through the process, rather than the following, was his main priority.

“This sounds dumb because it is TikTok videos, but honestly, the man that it will make me become — I’ll be so much stronger, more creative, a better communicator, better at time management through making these videos,” Pickens said.

Pickens’ videos are often humorous and sometimes consist of dancing to a song through the app’s music feature. He said he spends 45 minutes to an hour each day watching other videos to get ideas, but sometimes will come up with original ideas such as giving a tour of UGA’s campus set to Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” Some videos take Pickens just 15 seconds to record, while others, he said, can take up to two hours.

@joshuapickens0here’s a tour of my university ##uga ##fyp ##4u ##godawgsbaby ##collegetour ##georgia♬ Fantasy – Mariah Carey

“[For] that UGA tour one, I thought ‘Yeah, that’d be cool to give a tour of my campus,’ Pickens said. “Ones like that come from usually me sitting in Bolton [Dining Commons] and listening to music and writing out random ideas and then going into more detail with them.”

Based on advice from Pickens, I created a walk through on how to make a video for TikTok. 

While many UGA students create TikTok videos, other students find the joy of the app comes more from simply watching other people’s videos.

“I feel like I enjoy watching them more than actually creating the content just because I’m just looking for a laugh,” said Eisha Baig, a sophomore intended health promotion student from Alpharetta. 

Baig said she downloaded TikTok after seeing the platform’s videos on her other social media. Now on the app, Baig said she uses its “For You” tab, which recommends videos to watch based on the user’s prior engagement, to find videos she enjoys. While TikTok includes a wide variety of content, both Baig and Mira Vining, a senior biology major from Marietta, use TikTok for the comedy aspect.

“With TikTok, you can really make it whatever you want it to be…A lot of people, the users that I watch, they use it as a sketch comedy platform, which I really like a lot,” Vining said. “You have to be smart and good at comedy to make someone laugh in a minute.”

Since TikTok tailors the content based on previously watched videos, Pickens, Baig and Vining all said the app can be addictive. Pickens said he has had to delete the app from his phone and will redownload it when he wants to make a video. Baig said she will have days where her TikTok usage ranges from 20 minutes to three hours. Vining said she will “end up spending hours just scrolling” on TikTok.

As TikTok continues to increase in popularity, Baig and Vining plan to continue to watch videos on the app. Pickens, meanwhile, has big goals for the future of his account.

“I actually wrote out, and this sounds big and crazy, but one of my dreams is to hit 1 million followers on TikTok,” Pickens said. “One of my favorite quotes is ‘shoot for the moon and even if you don’t land it, you’ll land amongst the stars.’ And that is just kind of my plan with this social media thing is just I’m going to go for it, man. I’m not going to be afraid to land in the stars.”

@joshuapickens0When the entree slaps in the dining hall @brostedblakes ##uga ##fyp ##foryou ##4u ##letthebigdogeat ##college ##senioryear ##dance♬ Wait a Minute! – Willow


Stephen Barr is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.



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