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CringeTok: A New Form of Cyberbullying?

The best art, and TikToks, will elicit a reaction from you, even if it’s cringing in second-hand embarrassment.

Cringetok, cringe, TikTok, cringetok is cyberbullying, @kqtiewhitney
Credit: TikTok/@kqtiewhitney

TikTok has hosted a huge range of subsections of content. From LGBTQ+ tok to crunchytok to even frogtok, there’s an online community churning out videos for everyone’s interests, however niche. However, recent years have seen the rise of cringetok, a genre designed to make you squirm.

Videos range from infuriating pick-me girls to horrific pick-up lines. Sometimes, these are deliberately made by creators who build a following off of making people wince. However, recently “cringe accounts” have appeared on TikTok. The faceless creators of these pages scour the internet for other peoples’ videos and curate them into a cringe page.

Unfortunately, a lot of this content wasn’t originally meant to be cringe. Quirky, eccentric, neurodivergent and non-conventionally attractive people often have their videos uploaded to these pages without their consent. This has led to people accusing these cringe pages of bullying- but are they just harmless fun?

What does “cringe” mean?

@kqtiewhitney

And the boys still won’t leave me alone 🤦‍♀️😭 #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #cringe #pickme #pov #ick #cringe

♬ let it happen – favsoundds

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “cringe” as “to recoil in distaste.” As with all art, the reaction you have to TikToks will vary depending on your experiences. Videos such as the one above make me physically recoil. The creator, @kqtiewhitney, deliberately parodies the “not like other girls” trope, which was popular in the 2010s when I was growing up. But she makes it clear that it is satire, designed to incite a response of disgust from anyone who grew up interacting with girls like this (albeit to a less exaggerated extent).

Some cringe creators tap into a more universal source of inspiration, such as @k1ngcringe on TikTok, who posts videos of himself with horrific pickup lines.

Who wouldn’t find that torture to watch?

Cringe pages

Cringe compilations become more troubling because, often, the creators of these videos didn’t intend for them to cause disgust. Some, such as the one below, are clearly intended to be “rage bait” in some form and go viral.

@swagboygorringe Me when mcdonalds gives me 5 nuggets instead of 6 #fyp #foryou #foryourpage #xyzbca #viral ♬ original sound – swagboygorringe

However, others are simply people being their authentic selves, such as the video below, which features someone who dresses up and role-plays as an animal.

This is called being a “therian.” Some might find it strange or weird, but unlike the example above, the original creator isn’t publicly upsetting or hurting anyone.

They posted this online for their community to respond to and did not consent to strangers seeing it.

There is also a clear correlation between your attractiveness and ending up on cringe pages. For example, the individual below was put on a cringe page for doing something that young, conventionally attractive women get praised for online: lip-syncing in public.

Abelism, fatphobia and anti-alternative

As proved above, things deemed cringe often rest on whether their participants are conventionally attractive. This has meant that cringe pages have unfairly targeted certain groups to elicit responses and even bully certain communities.

This can prevent certain communities from sharing their voices and their stories and cause serious harm. It also shows how far online communities are from accepting people being authentically themselves.

The fact that the sites responsible for hosting this content do not take action against this reposting without consent means that they are happy for cyberbullying and non-consensual reposting to proliferate. TikTok needs to change, and we can help by reporting cringe video accounts of bullying when we come across them.

While “cringe” creators provide us with a sense of catharsis, we must be aware of whether this is done consensually or not. Who knows – one day, your video could be posted on a cringetok page without your knowledge.

Written By

Hi, I'm Georgie and I'm currently studying at St Andrews University, Scotland. I love writing about social media trends and unpicking the ways which platforms like Instagram and TikTok give rise to certain cultural phenomena. I'm writing for the Life section of Trill at the moment, so look out for my articles!

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