TikTok’s time under the sun

TikTok puts children at risk of bad influences and attention problems

Around the beginning of 2020, the social media juggernaut TikTok gained widespread popularity, surpassing 650 million downloads and rivaling the likes of other major platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, according to Statista. However, this sudden boom in popularity has brought with it a multitude of issues such as detrimental health effects and dangerous trends. Users need to be aware of these pitfalls and have more self-control while on the platform.

Watching too much short form content, according to the New York Post, can lead to negative side effects such as having a shortened attention span. (Photo by Brian Ling)

A major problem with TikTok is that the app is extremely addictive due to the way it runs and how it feeds content to its users. TikTok uses a “For You” page controlled by an algorithm that finds and shows users videos based on what they have enjoyed and watched according to an article by the BBC. The videos posted on the platform are only around 15 to 60 seconds long, creating an extremely rapid pace with very concise content, immediately hooking in viewers. Unfortunately, according to the New York Post, too much of this short-form content can have negative impacts such as reduced attention span and addiction. This knowledge is upsetting, as with shorter attention spans, people will find it harder to concentrate on a single task and it will affect their overall performance in their everyday activities. I have experienced this firsthand with a team member in a group project that had a pretty serious TikTok addiction and would spend all our work time on the app and hardly did any work, hindering our progress.

Although much of the content on TikTok is harmless and is purely for entertainment, there is still quite a bit of content that can set some dangerous or illegal trends for some young and impressionable kids and teens — the majority of TikTok’s user base — may try to follow. For example, a recent trend that was covered by a lot of media outlets and even gained the attention of the CDC was the “Sleepy Chicken” or NyQuil Chicken challenge where people covered chicken and other poultry in the cold and allergy medicine NyQuil and then cooked it. This would cause the medicine to react in strange ways that would be detrimental to the consumer’s health. When I first heard about this trend, I was shocked because of how nonsensical it was as people knew that this would harm them but they still proceeded to do it in the name of clout and attention.

Not only does TikTok pump out content that can set up alarming trends, but a chunk of the platform is infested with videos that contain suggestive and inappropriate themes. These can range from individuals becoming over-sexualized, to downright evil and violent. These kinds of videos can have a toxic effect on children who may, unfortunately, stumble across them. For example, according to the New York Times, there was a period when Mexican drug cartels used the platform to try and entice younger audiences by showing them things like guns, expensive properties, nice cars and more. These videos racked up hundreds of thousands of views and likes. According to Insider, another alarming problem that has happened several times on the platform was when several users began to try and defend murders, like Cameron Herrin, a man who ran over a mother and her daughter with a car, who developed a following demanding his release from prison because he was “too cute” to be sentenced. 

In all, although these instances are quite uncommon, I still think that it nonetheless makes TikTok a risky site for young children to be on and that moderation on the app should be tighter to purge such deplorable content from the platform. 

There is no reason for people to give up this platform, especially if they enjoy spending their free time on it, as the majority of the content on TikTok is actually quite positive. However, users just need to be aware of such dangers and limit their usage of the app to a healthy amount. People should also be sure to report malicious or dangerous content to keep the platform running safely and appropriately.