TikTok Shop is ruining the platform

By Sarah Gallaher | Staff Writer

After a long day of classes, my go-to activity, like many other college students, is to mindlessly scroll through TikTok before starting homework or addressing my other responsibilities. Although it negatively impacts my screen time, TikTok provides a distinct, user-oriented platform with short, entertaining videos.

However, the introduction of TikTok Shop in the U.S. in September 2023 negatively impacted the app, resulting in an oversaturation of advertisements.

TikTok introduced advertisements in 2019 and increased the frequency of advertisements as time went on. In general, paid advertising on TikTok does not bother me; I understand that it helps support the platform and allows users to earn money through content creation. However, when advertisements are disguised as regular videos, it becomes an issue.

An article from The New York Times explains the appeal of TikTok advertising. Unlike other platforms, TikTok displays paid promotions in full-screen form, causing many users to mistake them for regular videos. Hashtags like #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt and the “paid partnership” box below videos are good indicators of sponsored content.

When TikTok Shop came around, advertisements masquerading as regular videos became even more common. Not only that, but the same products would be advertised again and again in an attempt to pressure users into purchasing via the platform.

If I have to watch one more video advertising the viral criss-cross chair or the corduroy tote bag, I might delete the app altogether. Users, like me, are getting fed up with the increased focus on consumerism, pushing the same content despite a lack of interest.

Some might argue that TikTok Shop benefits small business owners by giving them a platform to sell products to a wider audience. While this may be true of TikTok itself, the Shop feature promotes mass-produced items with low price tags, many of which are of poor quality. Additionally, small business owners who created a storefront using TikTok Shop have been met with a variety of violations that prevent them from making enough sales.

The negative impact on local businesses is also a reason for concern. Indonesia banned TikTok Shop in October 2023, two years after it became one of the first countries to receive the feature. However, the ban led to some backlash among Indonesian sellers, who lost their primary source of income.

Since the United States has such a great focus on consumerism, I don’t see a ban coming anytime in the near future. TikTok Shop is here to stay. However, I do hope the feature will evolve over time and the frequency of sponsored content will decrease.

In the meantime, I’ve been prioritizing other forms of entertainment, like music or YouTube. Doing so has helped improve my focus while preventing me from spending money unnecessarily and contributing to the problem of overconsumption.

Perhaps if TikTok Shop promoted products that better suited my interests, I would have less of an issue with the feature. For the time being, however, the frequency of advertisements will continue to drive me away from the platform.