“Do you smell that? They’re coming … Be gone, thot! Go away! I’m a man of God.”
If you’re one of TikTok’s 500 million monthly users, you’re familiar with the “Be gone, thot” trope: 15-second videos usually depicting one kid, alone in a bedroom, wide-eyed and glazed over by a filter. With physical gestures, they lip-sync this pre-recorded snippet of audio: “Be gone, thot.”
The audio, produced by Alex Martyn, better known as Lil Mayo, is part of a challenge that’s taking TikTok by storm. There are always unique versions of TikTok challenges, but many videos depict the same content — just performed by a different person.
The most popular and prevalent “Be gone, thot” challenges are “transformation videos” in which creators undergo a transformation of their physical appearance, or skits where the creator actually engages with whomever they have deemed “the thot.”
Personally, I never understood the appeal of TikTok. To put it bluntly, I thought it was stupid, before I realized how fascinating — yet frustating — it was.
Firstly, I am frustrated with Tik Tok because it’s made performing arts lazy. It’s a cheaper platform for artistry. Unlike Vine, YouTube and Instagram, it eliminates the need to create original content. Sure, each video is spiced up by a creator’s twists and takes — no “Be gone, thot” video looks the same — but the purpose of TikTok is to reproduce other people’s products.
In a recently published article exploring the “strange and beautiful world of TikTok,” The New York Times called TikTok’s 15-second videos “art.” The article celebrates the app as a virtual platform for “artistry and a lot of dancing.”
When I read the article, I felt disappointed. I think the beauty of the performing arts is the level of talent and hard work that’s required to excel in it. In preparation for her grand public return following her pregnancy, Beyonce reportedly spent 11 hours a day rehearsing. The drive required to sustain such long hours of dancing and singing, not only as a regular performer, but just after having twins — it’s almost superhuman.
Once upon a time, artists often had to make the risky decision to give everything they had — physically, mentally and financially — to their pursuit of fame. It’s always been a field that thrives off the blood and sweat of artistic souls and their passion.
In stark contrast, success in TikTok arguably requires little to no actual talent. TikTok promotes accidental fame rather than earning well-deserved respect as an artist. By encouraging users to engage in trends like dance challenges, clothing styles and memes, TikTok reproduces the same content over and over again. It strips artistry of originality and effort and promotes quantity over quality.
Yet, I still found myself spiralling down the strange and cringey world of TikTok. I soon discovered e-boys, which became the cherries on top of my ever-growing fascination with the app.
Urban Dictionary defines an e-boy as “A boy who generally lives on TikTok and only gets likes for his beautiful face.” The e-boy culture represents a large part of my frustration with the app, but it also captures my intrigue with it.
There are hundreds of videos of e-boys shaking their shaggy hair and flexing striking jawlines, and many favor TikTok’s staple “transformation video.” For all creators, these popular “transformation videos” often produce a sexualized version of themselves.
This is where TikTok’s problem lies. Sexily posing on social media is nothing new, but what is new here is that many of TikTok’s creators and users are young kids.
Just this year, the Federal Trade Commission fined TikTok $5.7 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by illegally collecting data on a large number of users who are under 13. TikTok then implemented an “age gate,” barring kids under 13, but any eager user can sign up with a false birthday to bypass the age limit. Like the Juul scandals of 2019, rules were implemented too late. TikTok is now forever ingrained in tween-age culture.
I eventually fell down a darker rabbit-hole: TikTok’s ring of pedophiles. The Daily Mirror, a British newspaper, recently called the platform a “hunting ground.” One user who goes by @TheBudday on the app was recently called out by various users for allegedly messaging underage girls. He established a controversial presence on TikTok by pairing his own dancing videos with videos of young female creators dancing, using a feature called the “duet.” The feature allows alleged predators like @TheBudday to pair and post videos without the consent of the female counterpart.
Let’s remind ourselves that children as young as 5 years old are using this app.
Audio clips with sexual innuendos and misogynistic content are offered on TikTok as creative material. By constantly using TikTok, young kids are becoming desensitized to content that was once considered explicit. The popular “Be gone, thot” challenge is a perfect example.
TikTok hasn’t officially decreed that one has to exude and embody sex to be TikTok famous, but the hyper-sexualization of users — especially young female users — has nonetheless become a defining aspect of TikTok.
I can’t help but ask myself if the kids know what they’re saying in the videos. An acronym for “that hoe over there,” Urban Dictionary defines a “thot” as a girl who “send[s] out nudes and porn” of herself. Thot should have the same destructive power as slut and whore, but TikTok has deemed this word funny and trendy, casualizing porn language for young children.
Despite being advertised as an innocent and fun-loving creative community, TikTok prescribes kids with unhealthy notions about sex, women and themselves. They’re told that the most important thing in life is how you look and if others find that look attractive. As we redefine our cultural standards of beauty, sexuality, gender and more, TikTok hinders this process.
In an age where we seek to replace the deadly routine of an “office job” with a life of easy fame and fortune, TikTok is everything we wished for. All I can say is: Be careful what you wish for.
Annie Salvati SC ’22 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. She’s an English major who loves podcasts, dark chocolate and exchanging music with her friends.