The Problem with TikTok.
Have you heard about the social media app TikTok? It's a hybrid of popular sites Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, virtually identical to its predecessors Vine and Musical.ly (Musically is just TikTok rebranded), and also exceedingly popular with a teen demographic. It's one of the most popular apps in the world with over 1 billion active monthly users.
It works by letting users share short videos, 9 times out of 10 these videos are set to up and coming music - popular TikToks usually include dancing or lipsynching. There's also a genre of comedy TikToks, similar to Vine. It's become so popular because the app allows users to go viral very easily due to its algorithm, the short length of TikToks and the set up of the app.
So what's the problem?
Many TikToks promote a drug and alcohol culture, void of any actual education on how such substances can be harmful. It's not like harmful content doesn't creep on to other apps, but usually, there's a team dedicated to reducing the likelihood or repressing dangerous or illegal content. Maybe TikTok has the same, however, TikTok has a big drug and alcohol problem, and it's not helped by how the company itself takes a lax approach to enforcing its own terms of service.
TikTok has come under fire on numerous occasions for a plethora of things: promoting content that is stolen from smaller creators, facilitating predatory behaviour on the app, allowing racist TikToks to go viral without taking action, even allowing explicitly sexual content to be uploaded on an app that is targeted towards teenagers and allows users as young as 12 years old to sign up for. TikTok doesn't just coincidentally allow things like this to slip through the cracks of their algorithm, because their censorship isn't as tight as other platforms like Instagram or Youtube that don't allow harmful things to be promoted as much, the app is geared towards creating this kind of content.
To get a few likes, comments, validation, appreciation and the prospect of going viral on the app, kids/youth are found attempting stunts on bridges, rail tracks, rail doors, electricity, rivers, etc. Dangerous challenges have gone viral, for several days, before TikTok has done the bare minimum of suppressing a hashtag on their own app. For example, the #NutmegChallenge, where teens would drink a mix of two to four tablespoons of nutmeg with milk or water and document their reactions, went viral on the app.
If this sounds dangerous, it's because it is - when that much nutmeg is ingested, symptoms begin within three to six hours, lasting for 12-24 hours. That period is "often followed by deep sleep," according to the AACC. Symptoms, which are dose-related, the AACC says, include dry mouth, agitation, hypothermia, hallucinations, among others — and in some cases, coma and death have been associate with nutmeg overconsumption. Similar to Youtube's problem with the Tide Pod challenge but not as excusable, since these challenges go viral all the time and there seems to be no set protocol in place to prevent or suppress that.
Yeah, the drug and alcohol culture on TikTok is alarming.
Not only is there a slew of videos depicting underage teens getting drunk and abusing drugs, but TikTok has also become infamous for 'tutorials' teaching underage children and young adults alike how to make homemade drugs and alcohol since they won't have access to get them through other means. Videos like 'How to Make DMT', 'How to Make Room' from orange juice and yeast and various other 'recipes' have gone viral. Not only is uploading said content irresponsible, but the comments on these videos are also filled with misinformation about the harm and effects of these drugs and it's all just... Sad and dangerous.
Up until a few days ago, there was an exceedingly popular hashtag, #Ket on TikTok, that made finding all of these harmful videos even easier for bored teenagers inside during quarantine. Searches for drug hashtags #acid, #lsd, #shrooms, #ket, #dmt, #mandy and #pinging have more than 108 million views between them. It's messy, it's alarming, it's weird.
Their most common approach to addressing criticism is staying silent, however TikTok has stated that they handle moderation separately for different regions. Still, in February of last year, the company had to pay a $5.7 million fine after the Federal Trade Commission accused them of violating US child-privacy laws.
What to do?
Is the solution to get on TikTok and overwhelm it with positive content? It might not be that simple. Since the app is geared towards making the most shocking content go viral, and teenagers seek out new and different experiences, it might not matter how much positivity and health and wealth there is, it'll always come to the surface. It's not always as simple for professionals and adults to just 'go where the teens are' without feeling like it's invading on their space. TikTok has a lot of dangerous content, but it's also a place where teenagers can lipsync to goofy music and express themselves. Trying to keep young people safe as well as let them have their space can be difficult and cause a reaction opposite to the one desired. There are a few people trying to correct misinformation in the comments of particularly egregious videos but this doesn't always quell curiosity and outweigh the possibility of going viral. Education by other means probably won't reach the same audience - 1 billion active monthly users that are mostly teens and young adults, hard to find anywhere else.
What about flagging content? Despite TikTok's delayed reactions to repressing hashtags and taking down harmful content after review, there doesn't seem to be much of a community effort in reporting videos. The user interface of TikTok hides the report button - it's only accessible after clicking on the share function, for some odd reason. Someone whos reaction is to report probably isn't thinking about sharing the video. It's hard to speculate how many more videos would be reported if the interface was more intuitive.
It's time to hand off to you - what are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them.