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Full disclosure: It is without a doubt that so much of my free time is filled with TikTok. When I’m eating alone at the dining hall, I open the app and scroll. To reward myself after studying, I open the app and scroll. For me, TikTok has become a magnet of entertainment during my downtime.

However, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it can also be a huge distraction. When comparing my time management in the presence versus the absence of my phone, the discrepancy is largely due to TikTok.

TikTok attracts college students because it is a unique app that allows people to make and interact with creative dance, lifestyle and comedy videos. This demographic is attracted to the app largely because it’s a fun outlet. It’s a distraction from reality. But with this new form of entertainment, comes major distractions to school work and a decline in academic and extracurricular productivity.

This “addiction” to TikTok has a negative impact on students’ learning, attention spans and overall mental health. According to survey data, as students spend more time on this app daily, they lose track of the hours and become more distracted when trying to complete schoolwork or other extracurricular accomplishments.

The average TikTok user in the United States spent approximately one hour and eight minutes a day on the app in 2021, which increased to an hour and a half in 2022 according to data from Business of Apps. Many college students will admit to significantly higher screen time on TikTok than this reported statistic. Furthermore, 28% of TikTok users are under the age of 18 while 35% are between the ages of 19 and 29. College students constitute the plurality of TikTok users and therefore are the most affected group by the app.

A strong correlation between students’ grades and their screen time suggests that social media, particularly TikTok, has a drastic effect on college students’ education.

In a case study done, 875 undergraduate, first-year students were surveyed on their screen time and current grades. Overall, for students whose screen time was less than an hour, their lowest grade on average was a B-. For students whose screen time was at least eight hours, their lowest grade was a whopping D-. Since these statistics are correlative rather than causative, it should be noted that among the group with the most screen time, there is the greatest variance between grades.

In regard to TikTok’s effect on Gen Z’s mental health, the New York Post explained that influencers suffering from mental health disorders are inadvertently leading them to incorrectly self-diagnose themselves with certain disorders that they’ve been exposed to on their TikTok feeds. It is undeniable that TikTok plays a significant role in the development of at least some of these young, impressionable users’ mental health problems.

Given TikTok’s impact and daily presence in college students’ lives, can universities use this seemingly trivial social media app to their benefit? Well, Times Higher Education suggests that universities use Tiktok to project a mixture of academic and non-academic content to their viewers. 

By featuring school pride, sports and academic content that is both beneficial and interesting, universities stay “on-brand” while reaching a broad range of viewers. Universities can reach a much wider demographic that even encompasses international students. If colleges involve their student body in this content creation process, allowing them an outlet for self-expression, they can turn TikTok into a strong tool for school advertisement. For students’ whose majors relate to content generation such as entertainment and media studies, TikTok may be a tool that can be used to connect their majors with real-life experience.

The University of Georgia has definitely hopped on the TikTok train, and it seems to be working in the Dawgs’ favor. Three specific UGA accounts have been pivotal in the university’s TikTok presence: @ugaalumni, @footballuga, and @universityofga.

According to UGA Development and Alumni Relations, the content that proved most successful for these accounts was humorous, lo-fi and self-produced in nature. Videos pertaining to the Freshman Welcome tradition, the daily lives of college students and UGA’s back-to-back wins in the College Football National Championships of 2021 and 2022 have all drawn positive reactions from users (or at least those not affiliated with Texas Christian University.)

Ultimately, TikTok, like all social media platforms, has diverse impacts on its users. When used in excess, students are drawn away from their work, shift their focus and even may develop, or think that they’ve developed, mental health problems. But when channeled purposefully, TikTok is an invaluable tool that lifts up the university, raises awareness on student issues and highlights the voices of students.

So, it is up to us, the students, to decide how we use TikTok. Will these 15-second videos bind us to our phones, or will we take control to use it as an outlet for self-expression and career advancement. It is a tug-of-war. I choose to join the latter side. Which team will you choose?