The Fall of Facebook; The Rise of TikTok, and the Threat of Social Media

Social Media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have dominated the web for over a decade, but with an increase in users since the pandemic began, the video-based TikTok is the new front runner.


Solen Feyissa @solenfeyissa

A steady increase during the pandemic has made TikTok the app to watch.

As lock-downs and quarantines were instituted around the world, social media users turned to TikTok eager to connect with others. From baking sourdough bread to embracing a new dance challenge, TikTok users began producing content at high speeds. According to CNBC, TikTok has about 100 million active users in the United States, an 800% increase since Jan. 2018. Kacie Lu, a Becton freshman, uses TikTok more than any other social media site and was one of the early users. “I knew about TikTok because it formerly was known as and I had that app” explains Lu.

A survey of Becton students reveals their social media habits. (Created using Google Forms)

While TikTok is currently the 5th most popular social media site, Facebook still sits in the 3rd spot, just behind Instagram and YouTube. However, time may be up for Mark Zuckerberg’s dominating app. During the 3rd quarter of 2020, Facebook decreased from 198 million users to 196 million and this decrease is expected to continue. However, it is not just the competition that is pulling away users. Facebook has been accused of everything from selling users’ information to companies like Cambridge Analytica, without consent, to allowing foreign entities to tamper with the 2020 election. Even Facebook-owned, Instagram, once the top social media site, has seen a decrease in users and traffic since 2017. If usage patterns continue, Facebook’s hold on the world is weakening, as TikTok makes a play to take its place. Lu predicts this change as well, “TikTok offers more creativity and entertainment [than] Facebook. Besides, Facebook should stop taking people’s information while trying to advertise themselves to the younger generation”.
According to analytics released by TikTok, the company saw increases globally, as well. With only 55 million global users on Jan. 2018, TikTok reported 2 billion global downloads and about 700 million active monthly users, as of July 2020. This data was released as part of a lawsuit filed by China-based ByteDance (owners of TikTok) against the US government as a result of a potential ban of the site. This ban, a threat by President Donald Trump over fears that the company was sharing its data, including surveillance, with the Chinese government, is a claim that former TikTok CEO, Kevin Mayer, has admittedly denied. Mayer stepped down in August 2020 citing a change in the “political environment” as the cause. He was replaced by Vanessa Pappas.

A student sneaks a peak at Instagram after submitting their assignment. (J. Sanchez)

Though TikTok has seen significant growth overall, some are leaving social media altogether. Last September, Netflix started streaming a new documentary called “The Social Dilemma”, directed by Jeff Orlowski. The film touches on topics like the effects of social media on information-spread and mental health. The documentary goes so far as to show a connection between an increase in social media use and the rise of teenage suicide. “The Social Dilemma” focuses largely on Google, Twitter, Apple, Instagram, and Facebook, featuring interviews with former employees. The documentarians accuse the sites of manipulation, spreading fake news, and the mishandling of users’ information. Though the documentary does not tell viewers outright to delete, or even limit, their social media, it does propose a lot of ethical questions. Many of the social media sites claim that the selling of data is necessary to keep their products free and accessible. However, as the saying goes, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” and users need to decide if they are ready to be sold.