It’s funny how the apparent generational rift can divides us—new gens are often criticised by some of our predecessors, be that our social media habits and apparent phone addiction or the presumption that we don’t care for the world around us. Yet, when we do share our opinions on urgent issues such as climate change or poor political policy, we are labelled as ‘snowflakes’.
Being the ‘social media generation’, it isn’t surprising that we end up resorting to social media activism, with many now turning to TikTok to resonate with a wider and younger audience. TikTok is rapidly increasing in popularity, especially amongst gen Z audiences, who make up over 50 per cent of the platform’s user base. So how did TikTok become the go-to-app for politically driven content?
This week, the UK is about to have one of its most important General Elections in recent history, which will be a turning point in determining the future of the country’s politics; naturally, our social media feeds are covered with news about this. Ela, perhaps better known by her Instagram handle @sunkidi, has recently published a TikTok video on her Instagram feed, which has now gone viral, questioning why people vote conservative. “I made it on a whim really. I’m in my pyjamas in the video aha. I make really stupid TikToks when I’m bored and post them on my private Instagram, it was never meant to go on my public insta but my friends thought it was funny so I posted it there,” Ela tells Screen Shot.
The video has now received over 93 thousand views, and has been shared by hundreds, with Ela receiving overall positive responses, as not only did she manage to start a conversation about something incredibly important and find a way to engage with people online, she did so through humour. “I think every generation uses different means to express ourselves. Memes can cover all sections of life so there’s something for everyone to have a giggle at,” says Ela. It appears that as a generation we tend to turn to memes, humor and now TikToks to voice our concerns, and it is incredibly effective.
“I think social media is so important for this election because it’s giving people access to information that isn’t broadcasted by mainstream publications and it’s giving people who are suffering under a Tory government a voice.” There is also a real push to get young people to vote in this election, firstly, because the election determines the long-term future of the youngest members of the country, and, secondly, since there has previously been a lack of young people in the electoral register. A large majority of gen Zs were unable to vote in the Brexit referendum, for instance, because they were underage at the time. Since this current election was announced, over 47,000 new applications have reached the voting age by September alone. Ela is not the only one who used TikTok as a means to create awareness for this election; the Brexit Party is an avid TikTok user, while young supporters of other parties also turn to TikTok to create politically driven content in regards to the election and the current state of British politics.
It is uncertain what exactly influenced new voters to register, but activism and social media influence have played an active role in that. So do we owe it to ourselves and others to be political on social media? “I think we do owe it to ourselves to be political!” Ela tells Screen Shot. “I think social media activism is so important. I remember In 2014 finding out about the Ferguson riots before the mainstream media had reported it. I also think the media can be so quiet on important issues that people need to know such as the Hong Kong riots and killings of Muslims in China for example. I wouldn’t have known about that if it wasn’t for social media.”
It is true that there are many cases in which social media has managed to report on news before mainstream news outlets have; the Sudan crisis being a great example of such, or the most recent Chinese concentration camps for Muslims, and social media activism has been pivotal in raising awareness to these issues. Teenager Feroza Aziz recently went viral after posting a TikTok disguised as an eyelash tutorial in which she speaks about what is happening, urging people to take action—with the Chinese app temporarily disabling her for doing so. That hasn’t stopped Feroza, however, as she tells the BBC that she is not “scared of TikTok”.
The future belongs to the new gen, and we are claiming it by fighting for a better, kinder future, TikTok by TikTok, if that’s what it takes.
E-boys (aka electronic boys) are good for this generation. Yes, I said it. Although perceived as an un-cool teen cliche as so many subcultures before (the e-boy name is often dragged with the same derision as hipsters in the 2010s or early aughts emo boys), they are also shedding light into the Gen Z male psyche and dismantling toxic masculinity while they’re at it.
The fascination with e-boy culture is often talked about in the media with the same enchantment as emo boy culture once was, and although the two subcultures are 10 years apart, the similarities between them are apparent. Both subcultures springing up at a time of the digital revolution, they mark the change of how masculine emotions, fashion, sexuality, and mental health are expressed—which feels timely as the world is going into deeper turmoil. Today’s teen boys are navigating through political, environmental, and social unrest while dismantling conventions of toxic masculinity in their everyday lives. From e-boys’ thirst trapping (the internet term of posting raunchy photos on social media for attention) the internet with their alt-emo fashion and sharp jawlines to the slow and inevitable revival of emo music, emo culture is being refiltered for Gen Z through the e-boy.
So, where did they come from? As it’s the internet where this movement was born and where it thrives, no one is quite sure, but most say they appeared around 2018 when TikTok grew in popularity. Many users described e-boy culture as a mix of emo and rap, referencing rappers Yung Lean, Lil Peep, and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way as its forefathers. Sartorially, e-boys are a mish-mash of BDSM harnesses and chains, 90s Leonardo Dicaprio curtain hairstyles and K-pop, wearing dangly earrings and shirts unbuttoned to the navel. Typically they are middle-class, white, suburban teen boys, producing clothing transformations, lip-syncing, or the signature eye roll and temple tap on Tik-Tok. If you have no idea what any of those things are here is a Youtube tutorial for your viewing pleasure.
It’s hard not to see the parallels between the decade-apart subcultures. Both explored sexual fluidity and mental health, but in different contexts. Emo boys sported eyeliner and girl jeans and kissed guys (whether or not they were actually queer) while e-boys express sartorial and sexual openness in a non-performative way as these liberations are now the social norm.
Don’t get me wrong, e-boys can be annoying as hell. According to the countless Reddit threads of users, e-boys are seen as “talentless fuckboys pretending to be lonely and depressed for clout and attention”. One Reddit user labeled them “as just another term for 2019 emo but a more socially acceptable version as an e-boy”. As they are rarely seen in real life, e-boys experience very little backlash for their looks, unlike their predecessors, who were ridiculed or even physically harassed for the way they looked. Performatively sad, these boys could easily be seen as posers, but they don’t care. Perhaps that’s the point. It’s not about authenticity, it’s about aesthetics—it’s the bad boy persona without actually being bad.
But e-boys are more woke than their emo forefathers and mothers (Billie Eilish I’m looking at you). As emo ethos collides with Gen Z ideals, e-boy culture represents the rejection of what it means to be a ‘man’. As toxic masculinity is slowly breaking down, the entire definition of masculinity is changing. Compared to the mid-2000s when emo boys were constantly ridiculed for being too feminine or expressing their emotions, Gen Z guys are more open to talking about their feelings and comfortable dressing however they want. Arguably, Gen Z’s are free to feel good about themselves and care about improving their looks. Throughout numerous Reddit threads, teen guys discussed jokingly (or not) how transforming into an e-boy would solve their problems. They want to be desired, and as sexual orientation is loosely defined, the aim for e-boys is not to attract just girls or guys– but to attract everyone. They don’t want to be the players, they want to be the prize.
E-boy culture also has a healthy view on drugs and sex. Similar to straight edge emos, these e-boys don’t really promote drugs in their videos. Perhaps an occasional cigarette, Juul or joint, but drugs don’t seem to be the go-to vice for them. It’s clout that they’re addicted to.
Whether it’s a subculture or an aesthetic movement, what’s wrong with a bit of self-love? The e-boys aren’t promoting drug-use or causing harm to anyone. Thirst for public approval and a desire to belong and not belong at the same time isn’t a description of e-boys but of teenagehood overall. The revival of emo culture is so timely because of the 21st-century male. But this time around e-boys will be seen in a different light. So let the eye rolls and temple taps commence…