By Audrie Uphues
A financial planning lecturer at the University of Georgia said college students can learn about personal finance through TikTok, a popular social media site, but urged them to exercise caution.
Michael G. Thomas Jr., who holds a doctorate degree in financial planning, has studied the behavioral, emotional and psychological aspects of financial services. He also said he is a TikTok user and understands how it works to attract users.
“Consumers have to understand the business model of these platforms and the views and likes, and clicks,” he said. “People are generally emotionally driven.”
Sophia Petrillo wrote a 2021 article for Brown University entitled, “What makes TikTok so addictive?” She discussed the emotional lure of using the site for educational purposes.
“Dopamine release is a key part of the positive feedback loop driving reward-based learning,” she wrote.
TikTok reported over 1 billion users worldwide, consistently growing since its launch in 2017. According to a study published in October 2022 by the Pew Research Center, 33% of adults 18-29 years old reported regularly consuming news on TikTok.
Despite its popularity, Thomas raised caution about the reliability of information and advice found on TikTok regarding personal finance. The content is user-generated, catching audience attention rapidly with first-hand sharing of anecdotal experiences and fears to gain likes, clicks and views, he said.
“There are a lot of deceptive tactics used through data and information visualization, creating uncertainty in the consumer,” said Thomas, “and a lot of fearmongering to tap into people’s natural disposition to fear money.”
When battling doubts about credibility, Elizabeth Morgan, a finance student at UGA, said she turns to other resources besides TikTok when seeking advice on personal finance.
Morgan recommended college students take advantage of tools and opportunities provided within universities and suggested taking an introduction to personal finance course.
Even with credibility concerns and access to other resources, easy access to information will continue to attract students to TikTok.
“You can search for something on TikTok almost as easily as Google, and most likely, someone has created a video,” said Caroline Chitty, an advertising major at UGA. “So, I think TikTok can be a unique avenue we will continue to see used for informational
Understanding students’ attraction to the platform, Thomas said he encourages students to think calmly about what influencers are saying and not allow fear to drive their decision-making process.
Thomas said he cautions students using TikTok to understand how social media is a one-sided conversation where viewers give up power and agency to someone else, influencing their personal decision-making process, frequently with no consequence for individuals presenting misleading information.
“Personal behavior and emotional responses are part of the whole picture, using marketing strategies to trigger emotional responses,” said Thomas.
Thomas said he tells his students every semester they must develop skills that will help them discern what is quality information and what is not.
“If you do not develop the skill set now with me in class to vet a little bit more about something proposed to you, then you are going to get lost in a sea of information,” he said is his message to the students.
Audrie Uphues is journalism student at the University of Georgia