TikTok users create videos about COVID-19
Influencers discuss the prevalence of coronavirus videos on the popular platform
By Hannah Lee
TikTok, a Chinese video-sharing social networking service, has been increasing in popularity since its initial release in 2016. In fact, it was declared the 7th most downloaded mobile app of the decade in 2019.
The platform, which has more than 500 million active users worldwide, is used to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy and talent videos. With such a large user base, TikTok has allowed several individuals to reach a wide range of viewers through the app.
Among these popular TikTok influencers is Sami Ali, who first gained noticeable success on the platform after posting a COVID-19 (coronavirus) prank. Ali currently has nearly 240,000 followers on the app. Upon posting his video about the coronavirus, he was initially afraid the video would get taken down due to the fact that he put a comedic twist on a serious topic. However, the video got 10 million views within the first two days and now has roughly 19 million views.
“The way the internet responded to it was insane,” Ali said. “People loved it. I told myself that if it does get a little bit of hate, and people don’t get the right message, I would get rid of it. I want to say 95% of people reacted in a good way. They liked it, they laughed — and that was the whole point. People like it, they laugh, they smile and then they move on with their day.”
Junior Parssa Alimadad also does not see these more light-hearted videos as harmful for the most part. He appreciates the humor and sees the videos to be another way to spread awareness about the coronavirus.
“Awareness is awareness whether it’s positive or negative,” Alimadad said. “It’s generally a good thing for current world-related jokes to always circulate the internet because even though it might be for comedy, it’s still a type of awareness, which is especially useful for today’s coronavirus situation since awareness is truly a way to tackle the disease from spreading.”
As a creator, Ali believes that he is somewhat accountable for taking advantage of his position to help spread positivity in the midst of the more serious aspects of coronavirus.
“TikTok is one of the easiest ways to reach out to millions and millions of people, whether it’s with the coronavirus, whether it’s with any trends that are going on, whether it’s with any problems that are going on in the world,” Ali said. “Throughout the whole negativity that is going on, throughout people’s deaths — I’m not trying to make fun of that. I’m just trying to make people laugh at any time and any moment. I want to help others get the most out of it and try to let people smile a little bit more because everything going on right now is very tough.”
Similarly, 18-year-old Niko Katsuyoshi, who has over 800,000 followers on TikTok, sees this difficult time as an opportunity for him to connect with his followers in a positive manner. As someone with a considerable following, Katsuyoshi feels a responsibility to create content for people stuck at home due to shelter-in-place orders. In addition to creating videos, Katsuyoshi has opened four Google classrooms with 250 students each as a way for fans to communicate with him.
“Each night I’ll go live on Zoom and talk to them,” Katsuyoshi said. “I give them ‘homework assignments’ to do, which usually relates to watching one of my videos. They’ve also made group chats on the side to talk to each other so I feel like I’ve helped people make friends as well during this time where people are stuck inside.”
While most of the feedback he has received has been positive, Ali does say it is important for him to take into consideration the opinions of those who may not appreciate his comedic videos. He uses the livestreaming feature on TikTok to have conversations with his audience, including people who have family members who have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
“I’ll talk to them and explain to them that it is a very tough situation,” Ali said. “I explain the videos to make sure that they understand where I’m coming from. If anyone is actually affected by this, I do sincerely pray for them. From the bottom of my heart, I wish everything gets better and easier for them.”
Alimadad also believes that it is important for those on TikTok to make sure that they are not spreading negative awareness about coronavirus. He specifically mentions a specific creator who downplayed the serious nature of the pandemic by going outside because “teenagers are immune,” despite recommendations by health officials for all age groups to stay indoors.
“What is deemed to be appropriate is extremely subjective when it comes to jokes about serious subjects,” Alimadad said. “I, for one, appreciate mostly any humor [about] this pandemic but I always consider which ones would not be very wise to share with others because you never know who understands the significance of the virus and [who] might accept a joke as a fact which could be potentially harmful.”
Katsuyoshi prefers not to post content related to the coronavirus, as he does not want to create an issue or unintentionally offend people. While coronavirus is a trending topic that is relatable for many of his followers, Katsuyoshi explains that it is not “[his] place” to create jokes about the issue.
Despite this, he has created a video in which he fake coughs at the airport to show how Asian people like himself are targeted for having the coronavirus. He considers this different from simply joking about the coronavirus, as he hopes to address the negative stereotype others have placed on Asian people due to COVID-19 originating in Wuhan, China.
“I’d say just don’t take it too far,” Katsuyoshi said. “It’s definitely a serious issue. TikTok kind of turns it into a joke and the internet makes people take it less seriously. I always make sure to stay behind the line and don’t make anything that is offending anybody.”
In order to ensure that his videos are not unintentionally offensive, Ali works with his review team, a group of friends who approve and add tweaks to his videos before he posts them. In this sense, Ali says he is always “working to get better” and trying his best to “stay away from negativity.”
“One thing I have noticed is that the more positivity you spread, the more your life is just going to pour it right back onto you,” Ali said. “I’ve been positive, I would say my whole life. I mean, obviously, you’re gonna have your negative times, your negative days and all that, but overall, when I upload positive videos, I get positive comments back and it’s just a cycle of positivity going around. The next morning when I wake up, I read positivity. It just makes me want to do even more and more positive things and make people smile.”