TikTok’s in the news constantly, whether it’s stories about our decreasing attention spans or threats to national security. Today’s TikTok story is that US lawmakers have introduced a bill to ban TikTok entirely
In an attempt to understand all of this, I’ve been digging and researching about TikTok and have come up with some decent resources (and opinions – of course)! Thought I’d share:
My personal problem with TikTok:
- The version that the Chinese kids get is totally different from the version we get. Not only does the app limit their daily time to 40 minutes, they get
- clips about science experiments
- clips about museums
- clips about fitness
- with some Chinese propaganda thrown in (of course)
- When asked, Chinese kids say they want to be astronauts. American kids say “influencers”.
- Check out this clip from 60 Minutes
- “If you allow these two societies to play out for a few generations, I can tell you what your world is going to look like.” – Tristan Harris, Center for Humane Technology
TikTok from a news/information perspective:
- Kids are using TikTok as a search engine. New York Times Sept 2022
- (This is problematic for a host of reasons…have you SEEN some of the videos on TikTok? Google’s not perfect but I trust Google more than I would trust TikTok)
- In one study, 20% of the videos on TikTok contained misinformation CNN Sept 2022
- “News on TikTok is generated by social media influencers, activists or ordinary people rather than journalists.” Reuters Institute December 2022
- (This isn’t any different than Twitter or Facebook, frankly…but with TikTok being used so much by teens, I worry that they’re not able to distinguish what is valid and true…especially when it is delivered in entertaining, short clips)
- Around half of the top news publishers are now regularly publishing content on TikTok.
- Many news orgs worry about this, as they think the platform would trivialize important stories
TikTok from a health/safety perspective:
- “TikTok Boom” documentary asks how TikTok is affecting mental health of teens. Forbes Oct 2022
- TikTok is causing teens to self-diagnose mental health issues New York Post March 2022
- Depression, anxiety & TikTok addiction research from University of Tennessee
- Kids are actually dying from TikTok “Challenges”
- (I personally wish the news media did NOT report on these “challenges” as I think it gives them unnecessary exposure and oxygen. Case in point? NyQuil Chicken! Searches went WAY up after the FDA released a statement about it and all the news coverage.)
- The under 25s in the UK are spending 57 minutes/day on TikTok.
- The first three seconds of any TikTok clip are the most important, the “hook”. I’ve heard TikTok referred to as “short-attention-span theatre”.
From the national security perspective:
- “If a tech company operates in mainland China, the Communist Party can easily gain access to its data through China’s Data Security Law, which allows the government to regulate data and its storage.” Wall Street Journal July 2022
- (The article states that this information could be sold to commit identity theft or fraud as well as used by hackers to impersonate officials)
- “TikTok’s popularity among policy makers and journalists could give the Chinese Communist Party unfettered access to the data of influential Americans.” Wall Street Journal July 2022
- The latest bill would “block and prohibit all transactions of social media platforms with over one million monthly users that are based in or under the influence of companies considered foreign adversaries.” Here’s the bill.
- There’s also a movement to get Apple and Google to change the age label on TikTok in their app stores so that it’s not longer listed as “appropriate for teens”. Wall Street Journal Dec 2022
- (These lawmakers know that nobody pays attention to age labels, right?)
What if TikTok gets banned?
- Most apps already include some SFV (short-form video) features, this is primarily because of TikTok’s success
- That doesn’t mean that all the GenZ TikTok fans would migrate to Facebook (gasp! Too old) or the lifestyle-focused Instagram or the YouTube “Shorts”. But it could open up opportunities for another app to fill in the gap.
- Amazon is actually starting a SFV feature called “Inspire” which will show users a continuous feed of photos and videos featuring products. Wall Street Journal Dec 2022
How did this get started, anyway? From “TikTok’s Stratospheric Rise: An Oral History” :
- “It’s dazzling and it’s frightening, both together. It’s this massive uncontrolled experiment, to unleash the most powerful persuasive recommendation algorithms in the history of the world on brains that are not fully formed. We don’t yet know what that means.” – Shalini Kantayya
- The algorithm learned what type of content each individual person wanted to see based on how much time they spent watching or lingering over specific videos. The more time users spent on the app, the better TikTok got at feeding them.
- “You could tell there was a kernel of people truly trying, wanting to entertain more than wanting to be seen.” – Veraldi, an early TikTok employee
- “Anyone, if they were entertaining and they were putting out content and saying something interesting, they could find an audience.” -Nino De Guzman, former TikTok employee
- “A recent Pew survey found that two-thirds of teens say they use TikTok and nearly a fifth say they are on it ‘almost constantly'”
I don’t have any solutions other than increased media literacy education (big shock). But I’ve fallen down the TikTok black hole before (thank you #cookingtok and #airfryertok) and I know how easy it is to become a zoned-out zombie while on that app.
And our world does not need zoned-out zombies. Our world needs creative problem solvers.
Tik Tok and Twitter are addictive and mind-numbing. Keep up the good (media literacy) fight, but I don’t know if we can get the cat back into the bag.