14 creators creating real change
If you think TikTok is simply Gen Z-approved dance routines, it’s time to think again. We speak to the activists, scientists, cooks and creatives making a big noise on the platform to engage the world in things that matter
Overwhelmed at where to start when it comes to TikTok? Yes, you can fall down the rabbit hole watching chinchillas dance to a Louis Theroux rap, but there can be real depth within the creative world of the video app too. We tracked down some of our favourite creators who are genuinely using their influence for good – to ask them why they do what they do to shift the narrative.
Getting 10 million fans doesn’t have to involve dance moves. (Although dancing to Lizzo also does you a world of good.)
The retired MIT engineer-turned-chef: Lynja Davis
Inspired to create content in lockdown by her videographer son, @cookingwithlynja has grown a loyal legion of fans and cemented herself as one of the most popular grandmas of TikTok – with nearly 11 million followers. Her tightly edited – and highly addictive – videos show you how to make a whole host of kitchen staples like fried rice or chocolate cookies. Lynja makes cooking easy and accessible to all and proves it’s never too late to make change or start something new.
Why is TikTok not just for Gen Z?
“It is a big misconception that TikTok is for people 25 and under. As a grandmother, I regularly view TikTok videos on how to clean a bathroom, kitchen hacks (eg. how to clean a cast iron pan), recipes (eg. Gigi Hadid’s spicy vodka pasta), how-to-do basic home maintenance and dancing. I often fall into the rabbit hole watching videos on cute animals. My husband sends me TikToks all the time. How could you not love TikTok?
The physics girl: Dianna Cowern
One of the growing numbers of TikTok educators, Dianna Cowern makes physics fun whether you’re an actual student or just curious about the way things really work. Her @thephysicsgirl posts make use of everyday items to show the workings behind complex scientific theories.
Why is TikTok an ideal platform for education?
“Science is visual! Think chemistry explosions and strange spinning tops. TikTok is the perfect place to tease the unusual, edgy side of science. To come up with ideas for fun TikToks, I think back to the moments my science teachers blew my mind and I want to pass along the curious wonder.
The medical mythbuster: Joel Bervell
A third-year medical student at Washington State University, @joelbervell is on a mission to unpack racial biases in medicine. From educating viewers on dermatological issues for darker skin and exposing the biases within data algorithms in the medical community, his content is myth-busting and informative.
Why did you start a TikTok account?
“I started TikTok to have an outlet for expression and create (and watch) fun dance videos. Throughout 2020, however, there were so many moments that made me realise that I wanted to use my voice in a different, unique way. I still remember the moment I heard about the murder of Ahmaud Aubery. I remember watching the video of Chris Cooper, who was falsely accused of harassing and threatening the life of a white woman in Central Park. And of course, witnessing the protests that were sparked worldwide regarding George Floyd. I decided that I couldn’t sit back and wanted to add my voice to the discourse, especially regarding health disparities. It has been humbling being able to connect with students and physicians around the world. I never thought that an app that became popular for dance trends could be used to start important social conversations as well.
The habit-changing eco-influencer: Sabrina Wisbiski
A member of EcoTok – that’s a collective of green-minded TikTok creators – @sabrina.sustainable.life uses her platform to educate people on sustainable issues. While the Detroit-based content creator informs viewers about the climate emergency, she also provides practical hacks like how to deodorise secondhand clothes or make low-waste coffee.
What do you say to those who argue that individuals can’t make a difference?
“Whether it is reducing their own environmental footprint by making sustainable changes, or more systematic changes such as voting for politicians who want to take climate action or protesting, every action makes a difference. If everyone made small changes and became more actively involved in conversations surrounding climate change, the world would be in a much better place. TikTok is important because it has the ability to reach a large audience in a short amount of time. Gen Z also dominates the app, and it is crucial they are aware of the climate crisis and actions they can take to help since they will be largely impacted by it.
The meditative meme artist: Aiden Arata
@aidenarata’s hypnotising “guided meditations” take a sideways look at the human condition. Exploring topics such as sadness, loneliness or generally feeling weird, they are in equal parts comforting and confronting.
How is the creative process on TikTok different from other platforms?
“TikTok has taught me so much about pacing. Everything has to be super fast, and there’s a specific rhythm to really good TikToks. It’s hard to verbalise, it feels like choreography or something, very in-body. My intention when I make something is for the viewer to want to watch it at least twice, to pick up little details that might not come through on one viewing, but the video also needs to be entertaining without those second-viewing treasures. Finding a way to balance that is a unique challenge.
The curious punsters: Minute Earth
How do whales get so big? Where does Earth’s water came from? Why do leaves change colour? The collective of scientists at @minuteearth tell short stories about “our awesome planet”, punctuated with incessantly silly puns. Starting out on Youtube, on TikTok they have broadened their content and regularly cover issues around climate change.
What has surprised you most since starting your TikTok account?
“The unpredictable engagement with each video. With a million followers, it’s still possible to post a video that will get under 10,000 views, and with no followers, it’s still possible to post a video that will get a million views. We cannot move people to make meaningful change in the world, such as tackling the climate crisis, without telling stories that engage, inspire, and entertain people. If you’re telling a great story, but it reaches no one, it’s not particularly impactful, and TikTok provides the opportunity to reach millions.
The molecular superstar: Hashem Al-Ghaili
Whether it’s the Amazon rainforest or acne, Yemeni, Berlin-based science communicator and video producer @hashem.alghaili breaks down complicated science breakthroughs into rapid-fire nuggets and infographics that are easy to digest.
What more can TikTok do to help save our planet?
“First, they can take some measures to ensure that videos are being fact-checked or taken down if they’re found to spread misinformation. Facebook is more successful at this compared to TikTok because the platform has a group of third-party fact-checkers to validate information. TikTok could also give more reach to content dedicated to environmentalism. Given the age demographics on TikTok, you would certainly want to reach them and increase their public awareness about climate change and other environmental challenges. Young people are the ones who will be affected by it and they need to take action to ensure that future generations won’t have to face an existential threat.
The STEM champion: Chaotically Science
Educators, researchers and students are sharing chemistry demos on the wildly popular video app. Hailey Levi, a second year biology PhD student, started @chaoticallyscience because of a bet. On TikTok looking out for her younger brother, he challenged her to document her life behind the scenes at the lab – chaos included.
Why is TikTok important to you?
“I realised that many people (including myself as a first-gen, Black student) that not many people know how to navigate STEM and what my life is really like. So I pursued making videos about science and life as an undergrad but now graduate student. I think it is really important to break down the barriers of STEM and the unknown to not only recruit in, but also retain the students that want to be here. It gets lonely sometimes and it helps fill the void. Also to continuously prove to my family (mainly my little brother) that science is fun and interesting.
Plus, 6 more to follow…
9 The queer creator: Christian Dennis
Representing the cutting edge of queer culture today, the hugely popular @cristiandennis is on a mission to create pathways to success for other creators of colour breaking out on the app. He believes that brands should do more to protect LGBTQ+ content creators from hate: “During Pride month a lot of companies are just like, ‘let’s get gay people and do our thing and forget about it for the rest of the year.’ Don’t do it. We want allies who are going to be there and speak out for us.” (9.1M followers)
10 The Black Forager: Alexis Nikole Nelson
Gathering your own food is a revolutionary act. Known to the TikTok world as ‘Black Forager’, the James Beard Award-winning @alexisnikole shares her culinary findings, recipes and tips for budding foragers, all the while encouraging her followers to eat invasive and pervasive plants. And she raps. We would say mushrooms have never looked so fun, but, well, you know. (3.8 M followers)
11 The beekeeper: Erika Thompson
See inside the daily life of professional beekeeper Erika Thompson. Aiming to preserve, protect, and increase bee populations, @texasbeeworks teaches her community about the wonderful world of bees and shares how we can all help them to thrive. (11M followers)
12 The world cook: Ella Klein
Travel the world without leaving your kitchen thanks to @ekleinvt‘s back catalogue of recipes. Her ‘Cooking Around The World’ series sees her making a dish from every country on our planet. (205K followers)
13 The Excel-lover: Kat Norton
Spreadsheets and fun don’t often go in the same sentence but Kat Norton is out there to change that with her @miss.excel finance-themed videos that make programs like Excel that bit easier. (842.3K followers)
14 The award-winning reporter: Sophia Smith Galer
For well-researched nuggets of feminism, climate change and race-related news, make sure to follow British journalist @sophiasmithgaler. (404.8 followers)
What’s so good about this?
Are you a TikTok sceptic? at first but having spent many hours (arguably too many) on the app, I’m converted. The amount of creators using the app to educate, raise awareness and drive change while also flexing their creative muscles gives me hope for a better future. Something we could all do with more of in 2022.
Meet the writer
Elizabeth Bennett is a British journalist based in Barcelona writing for titles like ELLE, Stylist and Refinery 29. She covers culture, health and sustainability and everything in between – from modern mystics to plastic waste. She has spent many hours (arguably too many) on TikTok and is officially converted. Follow her on @biz_bennett.