This is a six-month-long intensive ethnographic project investigating how young people are engaging with Covid-19 related messages on the short video app TikTok. It aims to uncover the types of Covid-19 related contents that are being created, circulated, and contested on TikTok via the platform’s repertoire of visual, textual, and audio meme templates. In doing so, the project will help stakeholders (e.g., educators, practitioners, activists, public health services, and the general public) to understand how TikTok has become an important tool for young people to communicate information, convey sentiments, and create community. Specifically, the project will focus on Covid-19 issues including misinformation, hygiene awareness, and racism and xenophobia, following after the legacy of TikTok youth activism during the global climate change rallies, Australian bushfires, and calling out of race-based violence (2019–2020). Utilizing established digital research methods from the social sciences—such as press archival research, digital ethnography, and visual and textual content analyses of social media posts—the results from the study will allow us to understand how the structure and culture of TikTok as a platform enables young people to engage in conversations, activism, and advocacy, by closely surveying the available features and how they are used, circumvented, or subversively reappropriated. This will inform broader understandings of the emergent proliferation of short video app cultures around the world, to improve communication with and targeted messaging towards young people on social media.
Senior Research Fellow, Internet Studies, Curtin University