Unmasking TikTok: The Hidden Dangers Behind the Viral Sensation”
Can you think of any social media app that has been outright banished from the US?
If that were to happen, the subject of the ban would have to be dangerous or catastrophic, right? So why are lawmakers arguing for a ban on the popular app TikTok?
When an app called Vine was created way back in 2012, little did the world know that it was the genesis of a relentless social media virus.
If you’re on the internet, you can’t avoid the endless short, scrollable videos that now invade every social media platform.
Once one app recognized how profitable and addictive short-form content is, the format began cropping up as far as the eye can see. Most notable, of course, is the sensational TikTok.
Let’s go back for some context first. In 2012, the internet exploded with six-second videos from a new app called Vine.
The fresh take on internet comedy required innovation and creativity to pack watchable content into only a few seconds before the viewer would effortlessly swipe away. The prospect enticed many young people, both as consumers and creators.
However, Vine had several core problems, the largest being a lack of a monetization system preventing even the most popular users from growing beyond simple entertainment.
When the eventual downfall of Vine left those who had gained a following floundering after its demise, the market was open for a suitable replacement.
Though a few apps battled to be the next Vine, the ubiquitous TikTok was triumphant in 2020. Certainly, the COVID-19 quarantine incubated TikTok, giving it a much greater chance to utterly captivate an entire generation of teens stuck inside for months.
Just like the social media boom, face filters, and twenty-four-hour stories, the internet then did to TikTok what it does best: theft.
Every social media app would soon release its own thinly veiled attempts to copy the successful short-form trend.
And wherever there is a trend, there will be critics.
Short-form content generally has some drawbacks, but the greatest offender is the Chinese-owned TikTok.
Not only do all the concerns that apply to short-form content also apply to TikTok, but the app also has privacy and safety issues, with lawmakers talking about banning it altogether.
TikTok’s Addictive Algorithm
One concern that applies across the board is the addictive nature of this short-form content. Younger users are much more likely to be trapped in perpetual scrolling.
TikTok’s algorithm is specifically designed to hook users by showing them endless videos that match their interests.
The algorithm records every user’s likes and shares, but some don’t know that it records how long you watch each video, if and how many times you rewatch it, and even if you copy the link.
All of this data allows it to target the user with videos specifically designed to keep him scrolling endlessly.
The “fear of missing out” also fuels this addiction. Viral trends and memes keep users constantly scrambling to capitalize on the current biggest fad before it’s too late.
Young users might find themselves spellbound by the hypnotic cascade of likes on videos, fueling an insatiable desire for social validation.
This compulsion to create and share content in an effort to gain a slice of digital fame releases a potent cocktail of addictive neurochemicals.
Dopamine and Serotonin flood into the brain not only while viewing videos but also creating the need for social validation, which drives users to create even more content.
Some users may only consume content, but those who are creating also often spend countless hours scrolling to find their next idea. With the potential for easy recognition and constant entertainment, TokTok and its duplicates can be addictive to people of all ages.
Dark Underbelly and Content Concerns
Addiction is the most tangible and visible threat to youth that TikTok poses, but more safety and security concerns lurk just within the shadows.
TikTok, a platform not without controversy, has been criticized for harboring a dark underbelly of content – cyberbullying, sexualization of minors, glorification of violence and self-harm, and misinformation run amok.
Those issues will occur anywhere there are people, but the app’s algorithms and moderation policies are ill-equipped to shield young users from these dangers.
A Chinese company, ByteDance, owns the app. With the Chinese government’s history of intellectual property theft and technological exploitation, it has the potential to pose a serious threat to national security.
Some of the invasive information about users’ devices the app collects include device model, operating system, browser type, screen resolution, unique device identifiers, language, and other settings.
Moreover, if users connect their accounts to other social media platforms, TikTok may collect information from those platforms, such as profile pictures, friend lists, and other public data.
Finally, and most frightening of all, TikTok may collect users’ location data, including GPS coordinates, IP addresses, and other location-related information derived from Wi-Fi access points, cell towers, and Bluetooth signals.
Why does this app need to know where its users are, their phone type, and information from totally separate apps?
In this day and age, information is power. Some companies collect as much as possible, but TikTok goes beyond its borders to gather information from all over your phone.
Do you know who has access to that information? Do you think Bytedance is concerned more about your safety or their own bottom dollar?
The ban on TikTok is not about censorship or limiting free speech.
Plenty of other apps with powerful short-form content tools are available to provide anyone with a platform. Overall, TikTok has shown itself to be untrustworthy and unsafe.
While the app provides a creative outlet for many, the potential risks and consequences of using TikTok cannot be ignored.
Weighing the Risks and Rewards
TikTok has also become famous for encouraging youth to engage in dangerous pranks and challenges.
One recent tragic example that resulted in TikTok issuing an official apology was the case of 13-year-old Jacob Stevens, who died after partaking in the deadly “Benadryl Challenge.”
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” TikTok reps told the NY Post, with promises to remove further “dangerous behavior” from its platform. Sure.
As the debate over its future in the United States continues, it’s crucial to weigh the benefits of entertainment and self-expression against the possible threats to privacy, security, and the well-being of our youth.
An adult can use discernment when traversing this swirling vortex of vastly unmonitored content. Still, even with the most cautious app usage, no one can control what the Chinese parent company does with their information.
Weigh the risks for yourself. Do you think the reward is worth the risk? Or will you be avoiding TikTok and its videos?