Justin Mitselmakher/Miki Rai
States across the country have taken aggressive action to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Schools have closed, bars and restaurants are operating on a takeout and delivery basis, and highly impacted cities like New York and Seattle are now adjusting to a new lifestyle defined by social distancing and self-quarantine. But as young people on TikTok have quickly figured out, isolation doesn’t necessarily mean staring at a blank wall all day.
TikTokers Miki Rai and Justin Mitselmakher are among a slate of users turning to the social media app to ease their anxiety over the coronavirus. Rai, a 23-year-old registered nurse from San Francisco, has been spending her free time learning popular dances and pairing them with facts about the virus to keep viewers both calm and informed. “Right now, there’s just so much misinformation out there,” Rai tells MTV News. “When you think about how you want this message to get across, you have to use a method that [young people] can understand, so that’s why I started learning all these random TikTok dances.”
Mitselmakher, an 18-year-old Stonybrook University student who’s currently hunkering down with his family in New York, has also found that making his own short-form content on the app and scrolling through the work of his peers helps quell his COVID-19 fears. His approach, however, is through comedy. After the first case was confirmed in Manhattan on March 1, he shared a lighthearted TikTok that suggested the virus might team up with New Yorkers’ biggest nemeses — subway rats — to infect the entire city.
@bringbacktheavocadosit’s finna be Europe circa 1347 all over again😭 ##fyp ##coronavirus ##coronatime ##nyc ##newyork ##foryou ##subway♬ We see each otha WE GOOD - alllblvck
With so much uncertainty around the scope of this global pandemic, feelings of anxiety and loneliness, brought on by social distancing and self-isolation, are normal. But thanks to TikTok, those feelings can be replaced with humor and a sense of connection within the chaos. Here’s how.
The platform gives health care professionals a voice.
Rai understands the need for accurate information during a crisis. So she’s taken to TikTok to make sure young people are getting the details they need in a way they can easily digest. “I started learning these trending TikTok dances in hopes to combine the TikTok, young [people] element with original content to be able to relay this information to people and educate them on what they should actually be worried about,” she says.
Rai also finds solace in knowing that she’s not the only health care worker on TikTok trying to give young people the facts. “Social media gives us the power and the voice to talk to even more people,” she says. “There’s actually a huge army of health care professionals on social media combatting this misinformation and trying to correct the facts that are out there. We feel like it’s our duty.” And if someone watches her coronavirus TikToks and learns how to properly wash their hands, that gives her some personal peace of mind, as well.
TikTok provides a direct way for its users who are concerned about the virus to seek out information themselves.
“I think a lot of young people don’t specifically sit down and read The New York Times or watch CNN,” Mitselmakher says. “We sometimes get stuck in our own little bubble, so a lot of young people use social media to find their news.” He also notes that TikTok has become an increasingly popular place for users to keep up with current events. Creators take viral news stories and twist them into dance routines or lighthearted videos meant to provide comic relief about serious topics, like Saturday Night Live in the palm of your hand.
That’s not to say that there’s not a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 on TikTok. “It’s really important to fact check,” Rai says. “There is a huge community of awesome health care providers on TikTok who provide educational content. It’s actually data-driven, scientifically-based evidence about what is going on with coronavirus.” She suggests following @balancedanesthesia and @thetikdoc. After watching informative videos about the pandemic, Rai hopes TikTok users will feel “more reassured and know exactly what actions they can take to protect themselves and the people they love.”
Funny and lighthearted TikToks can help take the edge off.
Let’s be real: This is a high-stress time for everyone. But instead of watching the news and panicking, TikTok is full of witty content that will give your brain a well-deserved break. Mitselmakher calls the app an “escape.” “When homework is too heavy or the news is too heavy, I personally go to TikTok to get my mind off of it, laugh, and appreciate the creativity of others,” he says. “It inspires me to make my own videos.” His TikTok about COVID-19 and the New York City subway rats became a creative way for him to express his thoughts on the real threat to public health. “It made me just laugh as much as I could even though it’s very serious,” he said.
TikTok allows you to flex your creative muscles.
When it comes to what kind of videos, trends, sounds, and visual effects you can use on TikTok, the limit does not exist. Other social media apps can’t say the same. “[TikTok] gives you the opportunity to use funny audio and make a little skit,” Mitselmakher says. “[It] gives you a big variety of trends and different sounds that you can use.” He also said that making TikToks is his form of self-care — especially in times like these. “When I make my own videos, I try to put my own spin on things, and so it’s very therapeutic when I come up with a really good idea … and whether it blows up or not, I’m happy with it because I know that it’s my own idea and whoever sees it will definitely laugh at it.”
Using TikToks helps pass the time spent social distancing.
Right now, everyone is trying to find ways to make life inside a little more interesting. And according to Rai, TikTok does just that. “I absolutely love it,” she says. “I’m scrolling TikTok for like three hours in my bed before I go to sleep. Before I know it, it’s 3 a.m.” And just like that: Another day of self-isolation is over.
TikTok allows you to be social during a time when you can’t be physically.
For now, the safest place for us to be is inside our own homes. And although it can get lonely, TikTok makes it easier than ever to socialize with others. “Through TikTok and through social media, you can still connect with people and build a relationship with people,” Rai says. Mitselmakher adds that the app provides a way for its users to rally around each other’s content and unite as this pandemic plays out over the next several weeks and months. “Seeing other people’s videos, you have the impulse to share or like or comment,” he says. “It unifies us and makes us feel like there are other people out there.”
It’s a reminder that we’re in this fight together.
On TikTok, “you can see that everyone else is also going through the same situation,” Rai says. “Seeing that other people are also not able to buy toilet paper at the grocery store is reassuring.” Mitselmakher also feels an increased sense of community on the app. “Seeing other people posting about it and trying to stay positive is definitely helping me and making me want to post more and keep my head up as well,” he adds. “My heart goes out to the people who have been directly affected by coronavirus, and seeing them on TikTok gives me hope that we’re all in this together and we’ll overcome this.”
Watching people bond over their shared COVID-19 fears in the comments of Mitselmakher’s TikTok brings him a lot of relief. “It’s therapeutic for me not only to post a video to let go of my stress about the virus, but also it’s therapeutic to see my followers sharing how they feel and being a community solely based on one video.” He’s especially fond of one meme that’s currently circulating, which shows quarantined people in Italy singing together from their balconies. At this point, though, it’s hard to say what song they were actually singing because it’s been replaced by just about every pop hit under the sun, from Tinashe’s “2 On” to Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” “Seeing that everyone is at home and spreading the word that coronavirus is dangerous, or they’re making people laugh, it makes everyone realize, 'Hey, I’m not alone. Yes, this is hard, but I can always turn on my phone and go to TikTok.'"
We can keep each other in check and hold each other accountable.
“Young people do not understand the severity of what is going on with coronavirus and especially with social distancing,” Rai says, noting that even when they were forewarned, many millennials went to clubs and bars anyway. “Now is not the time.” Mitselmakher agrees, adding: “I’ve been seeing a lot of young people making videos about coronavirus, saying that they’re going to use it to travel and that the flights were so cheap. I think that’s a very irresponsible decision because even though it’s not going to be fatal to us, it is fatal to people who are older and with underlying illnesses.”
Reinforcing the importance of social distancing on apps like TikTok peer to peer is one way to convince others to listen. “I hope [young people] see a platform where there are other young people like them telling them to stay home and how serious it is,” Mitselmakher says. And as the person doing the reinforcing, reminding others not to purchase every last roll of toilet paper will surely bring some peace of mind. “Right now you should have a two week supply of things on hand — so water, food, emergency supplies,” Rai says. “But please keep in mind that the people who are elderly, the people who are frail, [and] the people with young children are the people who can not be going out during this time, and if you were to go out and buy all 50 packs of toilet paper, what’s going to be left for the people who actually need them?”
It’s still important to unplug.
While TikTok is a great resource for socialization during these particularly unsocial times, too much screen time still isn’t a good idea. Outside of the app, there are other ways to exercise your body and mind and alleviate some of the uneasiness you might be feeling right now. “I’ve just been converting everything I used to do outside to home things,” Rai says. “Instead of going to the gym, I signed up for an app on my phone so that I can do home workouts. And I got a coloring book.”
Mitselmakher, on the other hand, is using this time to do the things he struggled to find time for while at school. “For people like me who were like, ‘Ugh, I wish I had more time to do this or that,’ this is a good time to kind of get your life together. I’m at home editing my résumé, making my LinkedIn profile, and also talking to my family.” Together, he and his family strolled through Central Park, watched Frozen 2, and made cinnamon rolls before bed. But if you’ve already made copious amounts of baked goods, spent way too much time with your family, and blasted through Disney+’s entire library, perhaps now’s the time to download TikTok. And together, we can shed some of that pent up coronavirus anxiety with a few laughs, some solidarity, and yes, a bunch of new dance moves.
You can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Not everyone has the option to stay at home, but if you can, you should! Social distancing is the new normal, and we’re here to help.
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