The dark side of TikTok

The dark side of TikTok

Graphic by Sadie Wyatt

Deirdre de Leeuw den Bouter

Remember the days of innocently watching lipsyncing videos on Musical.ly? Well, those are long gone. Recently, TikTok has exponentially increased in popularity around the world and currently has around 800 million users, 41 percent of these being between the ages of 16 and 24. Despite the tempting qualities of the app, TikTok is incredibly addicting and detrimentally affects its users’ mental health.

For those who aren’t familiar, TikTok is an app based around short, 15 to 60 second videos where creators can do anything and users can watch anything. The app is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, who were recently embroiled in a lawsuit against the Trump administration. To avoid potentially being banned, ByteDance sold part of the company to American-based Oracle. Compared to other popular video watching apps, such as Youtube and Netflix, TikTok is famous for its brief yet entertaining videos. Users can watch up to four videos in one minute, increasing the amount of stimulus they take in. Much like other popular social media platforms, TikTok includes a like button, comment section, save and share functions, plus its own unique variety of famous creators.

Addiction is defined by the condition of being dependent on a particular substance, thing, or activity. We all love TikTok so much because it continuously gives us videos to watch. This creates a compulsive need to get that endorphin rush again and again, enforcing the loop in which we spend hours wasting away on our phones. When asking my friends about their daily time on the app, the most amount of time spent on the app daily was three hour and 10 minutes, while the least was one hour and 49 minutes. The average time was two hours and 29 minutes per day. No one spent less than an hour and a half on the app, daily. Does this demonstrate a level of addiction, even in our own friends?

In late August, a video surfaced on TikTok of a man committing suicide. The highly graphic and triggering video was up for a couple hours, before finally being removed by the company. “It is disturbing especially if the person watching this is feeling alone,” says Dr. Rodney Villanueva, a psychiatrist with Atrium Health. Since quarantine, rates of depression have increased all across the US. This, coupled with watching someone die on the screen right in front of you, can be enough to cause extreme mental duress.

Another issue that seems to spread easily across TikTok is dark humour. Now, in essence, dark humour isn’t bad. But there is a clear line between dark and offensive humour. Recently, an Airborne Corps member came under fire for making an antisemetic joke. The 2nd Lieutenant had amassed over 3.1 million followers on the app by making borderline offensive jokes in his bathroom. Dark humor has a massive audience on Tik Tok, a common platform for making jest at the expense of others. Comments such as these are made all over the site, with weight, skin colour, physical appearance and dancing skills often being heavily criticized and mocked. While a little feedback is ok, someone becoming the topic of your offensive joke is not.

“Thinspo” is also an idea that has crossed platforms from Tumblr and found a new home on TikTok. Videos glorifying eating disorders (ED) are easily found all over the app. Tags such as  #flatstomach have 44.2 million views. Nearly every social media platform has at least a small pro-ED community, but the issue with TikTok is it’s too adaptive. If you linger on one of the aforementioned hashtags too long, your ForYou page will adapt and continue supplying triggering content. And, even if a video is prefaced with ‘trigger warning,’ how often have you looked away? These videos are teaching young children how to ‘lose weight,’ or finally get that ‘flat stomach.’ We need to acknowledge that TikTok, for all the good it may do, can easily instigate someone’s journey into an eating disorder. I never even thought about my weight until my ForYou page began showing all these tips about losing weight and girls who seemed skinny beyond imagination. I started to second guess how much I was eating, feeling a new stress I had never experienced before after indulging myself by eating ice cream or some chocolate. Luckily, I recognized the spiral I was going down and forced myself to delete the app. I understand how easy it is for someone who has never had an issue with eating to begin falling uncontrollably into counting calories and religiously working out. Sometimes you don’t realize how deep under you are until you can’t pull yourself out.

How much joy does TikTok actually give you? Reflect on what you are viewing when you mindlessly scroll through the app. By offering a new form of addiction, it causes hundreds of millions of teens to spend hours on their phones everyday. With everything we’re exposed to in today’s society, we’re evolving to build up a new barrier, protecting ourselves from provoking content. But how much can we endure before this wall falls and we are at the mercy of the evils of the internet?