If you're only on TikTok for the videos, you're missing out. There are some TikToks that are so quiet and unassuming, that only a quick trip to the comments can explain their presence on your For You Page, and it's worth it.
TikTok's comment culture is just like the For You Page, endlessly self-referential and overwhelmingly multi-layered. For companies like TikTok, the comments are valuable information. For creators, they mean engagement metrics and a site for self-promotion and audience-building. For users, each video has the potential to host a chatroom's worth of dialogue and exchanges. It's where people share praise, fight, criticize, harass, share context, make requests, tag friends, and show just how funny they can be. There is no TikTok without comments.
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The comment section is also a powerful vector for memes, trends, and slang – like the recent "crying and throwing up" or "punching the air rn" reaction memes making the rounds. The use of a word or emoji can be repeated in other comments, in other posts, and become viral memes, like the new use for the chair emoji.
According to data from TikTok, the top trends in comments include: "POV, you're here before this goes viral," "running to the comments," requests for part 2, and versions of "my respect for the person watching this video." The platform also told Mashable that creators @ms.sutherd, @rod, and @dorontshova are some of the most popular and prolific mega commenters.
As the term suggests, these are commenters whose contributions to the comment section — of any platform — harness enough likes and attention to rival the posts they're under. A recent New York Times story about text memes made note of users who "have built their own audiences off cleverly written commentary" in popular Instagram meme pages and have "added to the virality" of the posts. TikTok is seeing a similar trend, except a post will appear on your FYP and its presence might not make any sense until you check the comments.
"I love making funny comments," Noel Mulkey, a triathlete from Tulsa, Oklahoma with over 950,000 TikTok followers explained. "I just like adding to the community and I always like getting a ton of likes on my comments." Mulkey explained that long before he harnessed a big following and became a verified creator, he had always been very active in the comments of the videos on his FYP. He remembered getting 500,000 likes in a comment under a video of a jumping dog. His comment read: "wow your bunny is huge." Now, Mulkey is regularly spotted by his followers in comment sections across TikTok and many non-followers like the many comments he leaves in his wake. "That's just part of what's so cool about the culture," Mulkey noted, "there's always inside jokes, like, everyone knows what chair means now."
Mulkey pointed to the Couch Guy trend as a good example of a TikTok made famous by its comment section. Our conversation took place only three days after the video that started it all was posted, and we'd both happened to see it on our FYP's earlier that day. The video is recorded by a girl walking into her boyfriend's (Couch Guy) dorm, where he is seen sitting on a couch with two other girls. The couch crowd seemed more anxious-surprised than happy-surprised to see her. I had the same reaction Mulkey had when he saw it, "I ran to the comments," the triathlete said.
Comment after comment warned the poster that her boyfriend might be cheating on her with one of the girls sitting with him on the couch, there was detailed discussions about body-language, phone-maneuvering, and facial expressions. The reactions, as opposed to the TikTok itself, made a whole new pocket of TikTok: Couch Guy Tok. Despite the couple's insistence that there wasn't any cheating going on, the comments had settled on a different story.
The richness goes both ways — comment sections can be sites for fruitful exchanges while also being breeding grounds for mind-numbing discourse, mean-spirited debate, cruel demands, and outright harassment. Creators like Erynn Chambers, use TikTok's reply-to-comment with a video feature to make a lot of their TikToks. As an educator and activist, Chamber's content centers dialogue and discourse. She is often in direct conversation with other creators, the people in their comments, or the people in her own comments. Chambers said that a thriving comment section often begets harassment: "There is an anonymity with TikTok's comment section — which is also true of a lot of other platforms — and that can be a blessing and a curse."
Chambers remembered one of her most popular comments was under a video that had a surprising stitch and she said: "this hit me in the face two times" and garnered over 20,000 likes.
Because of the visibility comments have on TikTok, there's a greater incentive for celebrities to join the comment section to show people how relatable or funny or entertaining they can be. They also go to the comments to fight for their lives: When popular music critic TikTokker Pablo shared their takes on Nicki Minaj's recent blackfising rant, Minaj herself jumped into the comment section to defend herself and all hell broke loose. In the trenches of the comment section, Minaj was eye-to-eye with the mid-tier creators holding her accountable.
Commenting, although often an afterthought, is a much smaller contribution than creating a whole TikTok video, but it can go just as far. Every TikTok has the potential to host an informal contest to see who can make the funniest or smartest or most-challenging comment, and it's increasingly common for popular comments to amass hundreds of thousands of likes. Creators have now taken to pinning the best comments to the top of their comment section for everyone's benefit.
It's easy to imagine a near future in which the mega commenter is a new and perhaps more dominant category of creator, if it isn't already. Commenting offers a taste of fame even more fleeting, a nano-unit of Andy Warhol's 15 minutes.