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"Excuse Me!"

With the rise of TikTok, privacy and consent have become bigger issues than ever before. Nilab Siddiqi discusses the ways in which this boom in social media use has influenced surveillance and shifted perceptions of privacy. 

Picture this: you’re walking down a fairly busy street, noise cancelling earphones plugged in, music blasting, minding your own sweet business…and then…”EXCUSE ME!”, or maybe you don’t even get an “excuse me”. Let’s be honest, you definitely don’t get an “excuse me”. What you do get, is some guy shoving a stupid tiny microphone in your face, demanding you tell him what you’re listening to while someone holds up a phone and films you without your consent. Yeah…that’s probably what would happen. 

Over the past years, I have watched as The Great Devourer of Time, better known as TikTok, has consumed the lives of many, and completely, and utterly, annihilated our modern understanding of privacy and consent. Don’t get me wrong, I too am frequently falling down the rabbit hole of watching street interviews, ‘baby vlogs’ and montages of people walking around and doing nothing, but at what point do we step back and ask ourself “what the fuck is going on here?” I say that time should be right this second. 

I didn’t truly realise anything was wrong, or that anything had degraded until I was scrolling through TikTok and came upon a video of a British creator I frequently tune into. I’ll paint the scene: the video is filmed vlog style and is responding to a comment. The comment is asking the TikToker if she can show us her young daughter’s lunch box, so they can all see what she did and didn’t eat. This strange trend has become increasingly popular on the app and basically entails mothers vlogging their experience of parenthood, subsequently oversharing their child’s life. Unfortunately, this TikToker, who I know had no bad intentions, enthusiastically fulfilled the commenter’s request and showed thousands upon thousands of strangers her daughter’s lunchbox, inviting all these people to comment on and judge her young child and her eating habits. I hope we can all agree that this is not okay. 

But why do trends like this exist? Why is it okay to constantly film your child or to show what they ate at school? Why is it okay to approach and film random strangers on the street and get upset when they don’t want to participate? Why is it okay to film strangers sleeping or reading on the train? Well, it isn’t. But we’ve all been fooled into thinking it’s okay, because any concept of privacy and consent on social media has simply ceased to exist. 

One of the greatest things about TikTok is that it has allowed people to connect in a way that no social media app has ever done. There is a level of intimacy on the app that has yet to be replicated by any other platform, and this is a major part of why the app is as addictive as it is. People aren’t addicted to the app, per se, they’re addicted to the intimacy the app evokes. This is why family vlogs do as well as they do on the app, people are tapping into experiences they’ve never had or experiences they feel nostalgic of. But it doesn’t make the exploitation of privacy okay. 

You can’t do anything without avoiding TikTok and its invasion of your privacy. As you make your way down to Dymocks in Town Hall you’ve walked through the background of at least 3 TikTok live buskers. While you make your way to work you’re approached by some rando wanting to know what your favourite book is, what you’re doing, where you’re going, how much money you make, what your passport number is, whether you love your mother, whether you’re happy, whether you even want to be alive. 

And God forbid you choose to answer in a way that maintains even an eensy-weensy bit of your privacy, you are berated by the comment section of the TikTok like you’ve just jumped an elderly lady. 

People now feel entitled to every smidgen of a stranger’s life.

So what if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your boyfriend on social media? You post vlogs and I have an attachment to you now. I feed you likes and comments and shares and so, naturally, you owe me. What does he look like? If he’s not conventionally attractive, I’ll comment excessively about it. Don’t rebuke me. You owe me. What does he do? So he’s poor? Break up with him. What’s his name? What a lame name. What are his medical conditions? Do you wanna marry him? He hasn’t proposed to you? Break up with him. You don’t get to be happy. You owe me. You owe me. 

So, whether it’s baby vlogs, or street interviews, or daily chit chats, we need to acknowledge that TikTok has a problem, and so do we. 

Thankfully, things are looking up. Many family/baby vloggers are choosing to remove all content containing their children’s faces, recognising the future ramifications of sharing every aspect of their lives with the world. And while there are still many street interviews and videos of strangers taken without their consent, thousands upon thousands of users are leaving criticism about the lack of privacy and respect. 

When it comes to me? I’d honestly brave jumping down into the street gutters and dwelling with the sewage monsters that obviously live there rather than face a tiny microphone and a stranger’s phone pointed my way. 

Privacy is important. Let’s do better.


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