Hiya, so this post is going to be focused on the fairly new and extremely trendy app TikTok, which in these last few months, it’s seemed to have taken over the internet. Now like with any app which blows up in such a short period of time, there are many exciting features on it, however work needs to be done on it to enable it to be safer. And I am personally very worried about some of the vast number of concerns with this app. Therefore by writing this post, I aim to express why I think it could be potentially very harmful and why I think that work needs to be done to keep it safe, so that those who want to use it are able to benefit from it.
Part of the reason however as to why I fear the extent of the more negative effects of this app is due to the demographic using it. Unlike other social media platforms, TikTok is especially aimed with the young person in mind (more so than Instagram now to be fair). According to statistics, just 13% of TikTok users are under 16, but with there having been a ban on private messaging for this app for this age category, chances are that many more are in this young age group than what is visible. Moreover I am sure you all remember a time when you had to lie about your age so that you could access some social media account at some point of your life. While a further 42 percent on here are aged between 16 and 24, still a fairly young age group considering. While it is also very addicting with the average person spending 45 minutes on this a day, and chances are, those younger people have been spending a proportionately higher amount of time on it throughout lockdown compared to the slightly older users. The reason this is so problematic is partly because it means that a high number of users are going to be very prone to coming across the wrong kind of content at this young age…
Disclaimer: I am aware that I don’t have in depth knowledge on every specific element which I am going to write about. However I hope that I can still write about this in a way which is informative, and to show why I am concerned about the way TikTok displays these issues. Though if you do feel that I have put anything on here which is inaccurate, then please don’t hesitate to let me know. This is definitely not one of my best posts, because I found talking about some of these topics difficult. Because I am not really used to writing chunks about social media, and I am certainly not used to writing stuff about fashion, but let’s take this as a kind of learning curve and hope that the next post with similar features may be a little better. Also this post will mention mental illness including eating disorders as well as grooming and while I am not going to go into any close detail, or include any inappropriate photos or videos, I would advise that you don’t read this if you could become triggered.
So to begin with, I will start with the topic of mental illness, because there really is so much content on this, whereby I would argue that a lot of it is glamourizasition which is basically going to bee harmful for especially younger users, and it really could trigger some dangerous behaviors.
So just by searching depression on it ( spelt like #depresision probably because Tik-Tok would have filtered out the proper spelling), I found nearly 90 million videos. Now to be fair, these are mostly aimed at encouraging people to “stay positive” or are meant to be “funny” or “relatable”. Now I personally don’t see any harm at all in having videos which are promoting recovery/positivity because these people making these videos are going to be suffering themselves, therefore will understand the issue at hand. While those ones which sort of replicate the idea off memes, are generally harmless, though there is the danger of someone misinterpreting it, then seeing certain mental illnesses in a humorous light and therefore posting about it in a jokey way. Now the danger with this is that it could really upset those who have a mental illness, because of so many not taking it seriously. Therefore I think that generally memes are harmless, though there is just the issue of it reaching people (aha young TikTok users) who will get the wrong impression of something serious, though I think that older internet users wouldn’t take something like this the wrong way.
However the classic “artsy, sad tumblr” vibe is also very evident on TikTok, which to me seems to almost be glamourizing mental illness. The first one of these which I came across was a gif of someone on a swing, with a sad quote written. Now this sounds completely harmless and I am sure that I am overestimating the impact to some extent, but it still seems as if something which shouldn’t be glamourized, is being glamourized. Now you could legitimately argue that this is almost a means of expressing negative feelings as art, which has in-fact been done for hundreds/thousands of years- not only since tumblr came along. However likewise with the memes, there is the danger of it reaching the wrong sort of people seeing this who A) Might think that something like mental illness is completely “normal” therefore not treat those who are suffering with as much concern B) Think this way and be less likely to feel able to seek out help if they were struggling or C)Be more likely to resort to unhealthy behaviors associated with this, thinking that it is “normal” and maybe even “cool” to do so.
On the subject of over beautifying mental illness, it was not long at all when I found a video associated with an eating disorder. So the first video I came across was basically featuring someone who was clearly struggling with an eating disorder, and while the video was expressed in a “meme” kind of format, I know that this could be very triggering for many people. In-fact I could tell that she was really expressing a deep sense of pain. But the concern is that this video (and the account) could quite easily reach the wrong types of people: being those who are suffering from ED’s (and may be triggered by this sort of content) plus the younger users of TikTok where this kind of content poses a greater risk to them. Now going on from this video, I realized there were many many of these videos with the similar theme. Oh and did I mention that at this stage I hadn’t even asked for any results on EDs. This shows how easy it is for videos like this to be discovered, therefore how easily they could reach those who are more vulnerable, who’s behavior could be easily influenced. Now I am not attacking the people who upload these kinds off videos, as it is simply a coping mechanism and I reckon that it represents a wider failing of the general system which is meant to help and listen to those who are dealing with mental illness and difficult circumstances. This way I do genuinely hear those people, but the concern is about how some may see these videos, and see this in a kind of normalized way, and not recognize the immense danger in having ED behaviors and subsequently be less likely to be as concerned for others who may be developing unhealthy behaviors, and be less likely to seek help themselves.
Consequently there is already possible evidence of those who are seeing these videos and interpreting them in completely, basically expressing these kind of behaviors as a kind of trend. Let’s take an example which we may be more familiar with: fad diets. Now I hope that you recognize that these can be extremely dangerous for somebody who might be needing to lose a little weight, let alone for someone who doesn’t. However access to viewing these is a little more dangerous, and I mean at least it is explicitly tells people that going one one as a “fad” is not particularly normal, plus being a “diet” shows us that this behaviors shouldn’t be sustained. For instance on TikTok were filming themselves eating a few berries for example, and then stating that it is “substantial enough” that this is all that they have eaten all day. Now is this not very triggering to those who are struggling with, or trying to recover from an eating disorder? And what about young people who are going to subsequently think this as being normal?
I did then type in “EDs” out of curiosity to see what results I would get, as well as typing in results for other dangerous behaviors linked to mental health, and the number of results which I got was pretty disturbing. And I note that the pain expressed in these was all very genuine, and I mean I feel it is good for them to have at least some kind of platform to be open about what they are going through. But seriously, I should not have been able to have been able to access this content so easily, because it proves how easy it is for users (more regular than myself) to get their hands on content which can be very damaging.
Another, possibly less well known concern is that TikTok has become a “pedophile magnet”– not in my words but in the words of Susan McLean, Cyber Security expert. She expresses her concern for “bullying and grooming by predators”. This has been where there have been many- dare I say pervy comments by pedophiles, and while TikTok has managed to delete most of these comments, the accounts of these people tend to remain meaning that TikTok is far from a groom free zone… Furthermore these people can view videos of these sometimes very young people dancing etc, and then use this for the wrong reasons…
Now another issue with it, which I suppose really is pretty relevant with all social media, are the sort of inflicted beauty standards which the app kind of evokes. And I know this sounds a little harsh and unclear, but I cannot help noticing that the people who are most well known on there are. I have also noticed a number of people adopt these looks, which I would say is completely harmless to some degree, however I also feel that in some circumstances this can easily become harmful. Basically people have been looking at trend setters for many years, and it is natural to look up a trend and adjust the way you express yourself for it. This has obviously been happening for many years. However with social media, the idea of following fashion is becoming aimed at people at a younger and younger age. In-fact I reckon the problem is more prevalent now than it was five years ago. Because in-spite of my struggles growing up, and feeling the need to live up to certain standards and to be experimenting with makeup at a far too young age, at least back then you could escape from all of this fairly easily. As though I would have spent a considerable amount of time on social media back then, I don’t think that it compared to the average time an 11 year old spends now. In-fact data from nearly two years ago from ofcom tells us that half of 12 year olds “maintain a social media platform” while “children between 5 and 15 spend on average 15 hours a week online.” There were also strong correlations showing that those who spend less time on social media have an overall better mental wellbeing. Meanwhile actual children are spending increasing amounts of time looking at social media as well, as an alternative to watching daytime TV. While you may think that it wouldn’t be too harmful for a child who spends this average amount of time online a week, however this online exposure at such a young age, may mean that as they mature into teenagers, this amount of time is only going to increase. Another report done by ofcom in the same year, actually finds that “nearly a fifth of people aged 16-24 spend more than 7 hours online a day” which further shows how many children are going to be open to so many of these kinds of images and videos conveying often fails beauty standards. And I feel that TikTok is basically just going to further encourage more and more younger people to be spending increasing amounts of time online, looking at content which is going to make them feel worse about themselves, and possibly provoking them to feel that they need to “glow up”, or to be “growing up” too soon.
But how could this problem be so prevelent on TikTok, when we cannot exactly photoshop our faces, because well- these are videos. However anyone familiar with the app will realise that TikTok contains a large range of filters. Which I am not knocking in itself, we all know that filters can be just a bit of fun. Nevertheless as with anything, they can often be used in the wrong way, or more specifically for the wrong reasons. For instance, people can use these to make themselves look “better” or “prettier”. And while they had plenty of filters for making your skin look clear, meanwhile many influencers on Instagram would use photo editing apps, TikTok now includes a “teeth whitening filter” as well as a “beauty mode”. But as the main user of these networks age, then the young internet user is going to be more excited by TikTok rather than other networks. Which suggests there needs to be a change to the way some social media platforms work, not just solely TikTok.
Though saying this, there seems to be a fair bit number of influencers on TikTok who are going against your traditional beauty standards, and are telling us that it is ok to have so called “flaws”, like stretch marks, rolls (who the hell doesn’t) and that there is nothing at all wrong with taking up space. Meanwhile it seems as a means of expressing yourself, as many people on it have sort of “alternative styles” which I would argue there is more kind of freedom around it, which has got to be a positive thing.
Therefore I would argue that TikTok is not at all entirely harmful, and it is just that there are definitely some consequences of it at the moment, but I think and hope that these can be sorted out. As there are also other features of the app which I would say to be beneficial which I have not mentioned on this post, which I think could benefit all people. Therefore what needs to be done is for the harmful content to be monitored and controlled more, so that one could not just simply search something up and receive results for it almost instantly, and instead there would be the situation where this kind of content would be very difficult to find/not on there at all. Because whether we like it or not, there are going to be a lot of young and vulnerable users on it, and when something is so easily accessible, these people need to be protected.
Thankyou and well done if you have got through to the bottom of this. I will reiterate that this is certainly not my best post, and the views may not be perfectly expressed.
Please feel free to comment any of your views on TikTok, be it something which I have attempted to discuss or something else.