2022 Guelph Film Festival: TikTok Boom Review

By Justine Kraemer, GAC Volunteer Writer

In an age of social media, TikTok continues to make a massive impact. Creators use the medium to inform, entertain, vent, and connect with viewers around the world. TikTok Boom examines the far-reaching impacts the social media platform has on the geopolitical stage, and in the real, offline lives of people around the world. Some effects have been positive, including spreading greater awareness of social and cultural issues around the world, to people who never would have had access to this information. Some consequences have been incredibly dark.

The documentary introduces viewers to many content creators who have found fame and notoriety on TikTok. So much of TikTok is centred around parasocial relationships. TikTok Boom explores these relationships between creators and viewers. The social media platform, like all others, allows people to show the best, most glamorized version of themselves. This documentary interrogates this and gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the other side of the camera.

Each content creator is shown as deeply human, which is almost an alarming wake-up call. So many of these content creators has an individualized origin storyline. However, there are so many similarities. So many of these TikTokers were unintentional stars. Something that they said or did went viral, and reached millions of viewers around the world. The documentary provides further context into the mechanics of how far the reach of a single video can be. 

There’s a meditation on how fame can be life-changing, and not always for the better. Some of these content creators had their entire lives uprooted overnight. While many were able to make this an employment opportunity, many of them continue to have to field hate comments directed at them. The documentary asks the question, is it all worth it? Particularly considering how young some of these TikTok stars are, it’s frankly sobering at times. 

The strength of TikTok Boom is when it explores the geopolitical implications of TikTok. It interrogates the relationship between the app and the Chinese government, without resorting to racism and racist stereotypes. Instead, the documentary presents a critical analysis of the problems when content moderation guidelines vary so widely across cultures.  

The documentary presents a troubling reality in which all governments around the world can limit free speech by targeting social media. TikTok Boom speaks about how content creators have had to come up with creative ways to get their point across without being censured. In one instance, a content creator had to appeal her video being taken down after she tried to bring attention to the genocide of the Uyghurs in China. It’s alarming, how much control the platform wields over the content. 

TikTok Boom also examines the profoundly scary possibility of abuse. It’s true that those who would do children harm have always existed. However, social media platforms like TikTok do provide a direct link to children. Part of this is parents and other adults responsible for children not fully understanding the platform’s reach. The other part is that while TikTok makes an effort to limit free speech, it also consistently fails to moderate hate and abusive speech. While this documentary doesn’t go into great detail, it does express. 

Finally, TikTok Boom serves as a kind of time capsule, as it discusses that dark period in history where a certain former US President was considering banning TikTok in the United States. In the current social media climate, where a bird-based social media platform is facing demise. These social media sites are so integral to so many aspects of modern life. TikTok lived to fight another day. Those worried about losing income or a vital tool of communication to send their message fought hard to keep the app around. 

Like all good documentaries, TikTok Boom refrains from passing judgement on whether TikTok is an ultimate good or detriment to our society. The documentary lays out the risks and benefits of the platform, and how bad actors have tried to take advantage of it for their own gain. For those who discovered TikTok during the COVID-19 pandemic, this documentary leaves viewers with much to think about. 

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