The Rise (And Dangers) Of #BookTok

Due to social media apps like TikTok, it has become easier for teens, tweens, and even younger children to stumble upon different online communities. One community in particular, #BookTok, has become popular on TikTok over the past couple of years, especially amongst teen girls.

#BookTok is a community where creators focus on content to review, talk about, and recommend books they've read.

"The demographic is almost exclusively teenage girls, but the power it has is huge. We have a ‘BookTok recommended’ table – and you can tell which books are trending by the speed at which they sell," a #BookTok festival assistant told the Observer. "I can’t stress how much #BookTok sells books. It’s driven huge sales of YA [young adult] and romance books, including titles such as The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and authors such as Colleen Hoover."

While most times encouraging reading is a positive thing, parents need to be cautious about what their tweens and teens are actually reading.

"Spicy" Books

A trend in the #BookTok community is the promotion of so-called "spicy" books.

"Spicy" books are ones that contain explicit, pornographic content, otherwise known as erotica or smut (sexual material). Some of these books even contain graphic depictions of sexual assault.

Content creators on TikTok will often make statements in their video reviews describing the level of "spice" of the book. If the creators don't comment on it, people will certainly ask about the "spice" level of the book in the comments.

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover

Besides the pornographic content in some of these books, another problem with some of these "spicy" books is that they have been designed to look more discreet.

There is a growing trend of these "spicy" books to be designed to have seemingly innocent covers with lots of color and cartoonish characters. This, coupled with discreet titles, could mislead parents into not knowing the type of content their child is actually reading.

While some authors do disclose that their books contain adult content, tweens and teens are being drawn to the books because they are recommended or talked about on TikTok or by their peers. A #BookTok video like this could easily come across their "For You" page.

What You Can Do

While you may not be able to control all of what your children are exposed to on social media or in real life, it is important to know what types of content they are seeing, reading, or watching.

Here are some preventative measures you can take as a parent to limit sexually explicit exposure:

  1. Take some time this week to have a conversation with your child about the books, TV shows, or movies that are popular amongst people in their age group.
  2. Be curious about the types of social media platforms they're on and who they follow. Explain to them how social media is designed to target them with material that is appealing to them and addictive to consume.
  3. Ask them to share with you a content review before they would choose to read a book.
  4. Set boundaries around how and when they can utilize social media.
  5. Remind them that it's important for them to tell you if they have unintentionally encountered explicit content or material. Establish yourself as a safe person for them to talk to without strong, negative reactions.