When I first got social media and entered middle school, I expected bullying to look like I’d seen in the movies: kids getting shoved into lockers, maybe, or seventh graders getting forced into giving up their lunch money. Maybe an embarrassing video or picture would get passed around the school and everyone would end up knowing about it.
I went to a middle school and high school where our community was tightknit, so I never really saw kids getting shoved into lockers, but nevertheless, when I first got TikTok, I couldn’t help but notice how there was a “double standard” in what was considered cringey or cool.
If the person was conventionally attractive or “cool,” the things they did became cool and funny too. But when a person didn’t fit those exact standards, the comments looked entirely different. Instead of praising the creator for being beautiful and smart and funny, they were called cringey and unfunny. Sometimes, comments outrightly made fun of creators, body shaming them, criticizing their appearances and making racist jokes.
I’ve seen this in how other common or popular interests are portrayed, too — depending on the demographic that the interest tends to attract — it’s either cool or embarrassing to like it.
Sometimes, people make TikToks making fun of themselves, and the comments play along — which is completely fine, in my opinion. But other times, when the person is just trying to have fun, the comments often go too far.
Our generation often is seen as one of the most inclusive, diverse and accepting. In many ways, I can definitely see that. It makes me so happy to see members of Gen Z fighting for what they believe is right — whether it be gun control, access to health care, climate change, Black Lives Matter, or other important causes. Some of my biggest role models are others my age.
But when it comes to bullying, Gen Z still has a big problem. Bullying may not look like shoving kids into lockers anymore, but it’s still a serious problem that needs more attention — and on platforms like TikTok, it becomes easier than ever to pass off bullying as “just a joke.”
I get that sometimes, some TikToks can be “weird” or “unfunny.” But if the TikTok isn’t harmful in any way, and if it isn’t hurting anyone, what’s wrong with being “cringey” and just having fun? As long as everyone is happy and having fun, I think people and trends being labeled “uncool” or cringey can sometimes be used as an excuse for bullying.
I’m not sure if bullying is as big of a problem as it was in past generations. But regardless of how prevalent bullying is today, the fact is that it does still exist, and sometimes manifests in more subtle ways makes it just as important of a problem to address, and its implications can still be just as serious.
Niveditha Bala is a freshman at the University of Texas at Dallas. Contact her at balaniveditha@gmail