On May 28, I uploaded a six-second video to TikTok showing a truck pass me dangerously and illegally. Within a week, it received over 129 thousand views and over 700 comments.
If you aren’t familiar with TikTok, it’s less follower-oriented compared to other social media platforms. “The algorithm,” as people call it, gives you a random mixture of videos that it thinks you’ll want to watch. As a result, unexpected videos will often get picked up and appear on the screens of millions of people. For whatever reason, this video found the algorithm’s favor.
Background for this video
Ever since I got a GoPro camera, I almost always keep it recording when I ride my bicycle. This past January, I began posting these on TikTok. I recorded this particular video in February while I rode home from work one evening. After I recorded it, I forgot all about it. The truck’s pass was dangerous and illegal according to Georgia’s 3-foot passing law, but not especially memorable afterwards.
A week ago, I was scrolling through my old video files. The “everyone underestimates me” sound was currently popular on TikTok, and when I saw this footage it gave me an idea. I synced the sound with the video, added a caption, and shared it.
If it wasn’t for the existence of that sound, I would probably never have gotten around to sharing the footage. I didn’t create the video to make any specific point. Although I am happy to increase awareness of traffic safety, I mainly use social media to have fun. Even subjects like dangerous driving need a touch of playfulness.
The video’s response
The enormous number of views and “likes” it received was unexpected, but the comments were even more of a surprise. A lot of bicycle riders shared their sympathy and frustration that the incident happened. A few people criticized me for not taking the lane (and they have a point), but a large number of people took it as an opportunity to share their hatred towards bicycles.
For every hostile comment, someone else would respond with a rebuttal. These arguments got uglier as time went on. Soon, my phone was overflowing with notifications, dozens of comments in a row from random people insulting each other back and forth.
It reminded me of Andrew Tierney’s fight against anti-bicycle trolls. I admire people like him, but I just don’t have the patience to respond to these comments. Engaging with trolls seems to offer me nothing to gain but a lot of time and mental energy to lose. Again, I use social media to have fun. I’m here to share videos and enjoy myself, not argue with strangers. (I opted to not have comments on this blog partially for the same reason.)
Nothing riles people up more than video evidence of deadly and illegal behavior happening casually and in broad daylight. Not only did it upset people sympathetic to bicycle riders, but it made people who hate bicycles even more angry. The fact that people reacted by trying to defend or justify the driver’s behavior, or even vilify me for being there and filming it, seems telling. (I didn’t directly accuse the driver of anything in the video. I just recorded it happen.) I think that, deep down, people really know that there’s something wrong here, and that fact makes them uncomfortable.
One common reaction I saw was people questioning the wisdom of riding on a street susceptible these dangers. I appreciate the idea’s pragmatism, but it raises a question for me. Why aren’t we working harder to reform our streets? It harkens back to the idea I wrote about recently: Our transportation system is a disaster to human life, and no one cares. We shouldn’t be complacent with our dangerous streets and then blame the people victimized by them. (For the record, I ride on the street in that video regularly, and illegal passes are thankfully the exception, not the norm.)
Also, I was amused that TikTok added this warning label to the bottom of the video:
Participating in this activity could result in you or others getting hurt.
It’s a video of me biking home from work. Even TikTok knows that our transportation system is dangerous!
What does “viral” mean? Here’s some context.
Viral for me is not necessarily viral for everyone. In the TikTok world, the most popular videos get millions of views. Most of my videos get a few hundred. Occasionally, one gets lucky and reaches a few thousand. Here’s a chart from my video view statistics:
The bumps on the left used to look like giant spikes, but then Memorial Day weekend came and flattened everything in comparison.
TikTok also provides numbers that tell me how my performance compares to “creators like you.” I don’t know how they classify creators, but this video is higher than 100% of the creators who are supposedly like me.
Most of my recent videos also score highly by that same measurement. Here’s one that has just over 300 views, apparently more than 82% of creators like me.
If you want to share your experience riding a bicycle, then TikTok can definitely be a viable platform. But if something of yours does go viral, don’t let the explosion of attention wear down your mental health.