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First 'quitting TikTok' statement shows popular app has come of age

Adrienne Matei
First 'quitting TikTok' statement shows popular app has come of age. It was the second most downloaded app of 2019 but in 2020 has acquired its first ‘why I deleted my TikTok’ essay

Perhaps you’ve just barely wrapped your head around the existence and popularity of TikTok – something about dances? A young woman called Charli D’Amelio? Does the word “renegade” have something to do with it? Sigh.

While you’re sorting that out, at least one young user is already over 2019’s second-most downloaded app. Last Sunday, Cornell University sophomore Niko Nguyen published an essay in the Cornell Daily Sun student paper detailing his personal decision to quit TikTok. According to the Verge’s technology journalist Casey Newton, Nguyen’s post is “the first known ‘why I deleted my TikTok’ essay. An important rite of passage for any social app.”

Related: 'Do something weird that works on TikTok': how to write a pop smash in 2020

Nguyen’s rationale includes the fact that the app is an addictive time-suck – certainly a valid concern. The company has also been accused of shadier practices than wasting your evening, including non-consensually harvesting user data and suppressing content made by queer, differently abled and fat creators. The app is said to be under confidential national security review in the US.

The oft-parodied essayistic subgenre of “why-I-quit” stories is most closely associated with writers moving away from New York City – pieces by people who’ve had it up to here with something or other and need to go off. In recent years, a seemingly unending stream of regular social media users and occasionally influencers, like Instagram’s self-proclaimed reality-checker Essena O’Neill, have made a point of departing platforms with dramatic flourish, rather than simply going gentle into the rest of their lives.

Quitting social media holds a particular, virtue-signaling appeal that’s hard to resist; we all know someone who seems to relish the act of declaring their intention to take a hiatus from Twitter or Instagram, whether or not they ultimately succeed. And really, there are plenty of good reasons to disconnect – not least of which being to “heal your idiot brain.

Of course, the fact that one person saw it fit to declare TikTok cancelled does not a sea change make – after all, the app was downloaded 1.5bn times as of last November. Nonetheless, there’s always the chance that Nguyen’s story may be a harbinger of what could come: a wave of Gen Z-er’s, sick and tired of reflexively bursting into jerky choreography whenever Doja Cat comes on, and ready to stop mumbling lines from the Broadway production of Beetlejuice in their sleep.

Until then, at least we’ll be entertained.