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TikTok could just be poisoning us

As TikTok gains widespread popularity, people are starting to realise the dark side of the platform.

As TikTok gains popularity, its users are becoming more aware of its addictive qualities, dangerous suggestions and overall bad influence. Indeed, we are waking up to how harmful TikTok actually is…

The app, which allows users to create and share short videos set to music, has become incredibly popular, with over 2 billion downloads worldwide. One of the dangers of TikTok is the way that it encourages people to copy viral behaviours, some of which can be highly dangerous. Among one of the worst trends that appeared on TikTok was the NyQuil Chicken Challenge, in which people cooked a chicken wing with NyQuill, a liquid cold medicine, and ate it.

The alcohol content in NyQuil can increase the risk of choking, and the chicken wing could get stuck in your throat. NyQuil Liquid contains 10% alcohol, similar to a glass of wine. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can hinder signals in the brain that control automatic responses such as the gag reflex. With no gag reflex, a person who has consumed alcohol to the point of passing out is in danger of choking on his or her vomit and dying from a lack of oxygen. There have already been reports of people becoming sick or passing out after attempting the challenge. Even if you don’t eat chicken, inhaling the medication’s vapours while cooking could cause high levels of drugs to enter your body and can cause damage to your lungs. The US FDA has even released a statement warning against the challenge. 

Another dangerous challenge is the Blackout Challenge. This challenge involves participants holding their breaths and constricting their chest muscles until they faint. What’s dangerous about this is that as you hold your breath, your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen and your brain cells will start to die. What’s worse is that if your breathing isn’t effective, your heart will stop beating and could go into cardiac arrest, which means you’re dead unless resuscitation is performed within 10 minutes. The Blackout Challenge has been said to have taken the lives of at least 15 kids aged 12 or younger in the past 18 months, and the numbers are still continuing to rise. 

This has been such a major issue that TikTok has removed all videos related to the “NyQuil Chicken Challenge” and the “Blackout Challenge”, replacing them with a safety notice every time you search for them on the platform.

Image courtesy of Edward Kim, screenshot from TikTok app

But even for those who don’t participate in dangerous viral challenges, the app can still have harmful effects.

TikTok addiction has become a growing concern for many users and parents alike. But what starts as a fun and creative outlet can quickly turn into an addiction that takes over users’ lives. TikTok can be very addictive, with some users spending hours on the app every day. This excessive use can lead to a lack of social interaction and disconnection from the real world, which can have negative effects on a teenager’s mental health.

One of the main reasons for TikTok addiction is the app’s algorithm. The algorithm is designed to keep users engaged by showing them content that they are likely to enjoy, which can lead to users spending hours on the app without realising it. Additionally, the app’s rewards system, which gives users likes and views for their videos, can create a sense of validation and validation can become addictive. 8forty randomly surveyed 25 high school students, and 95% of them said they use TikTok on a daily basis, with 72% of them saying they use TikTok for over 2 hours every day.

Another potential harm of TikTok is the risk of cyberbullying and online harassment. The app’s anonymity features, combined with its popularity among young people, has made it a breeding ground for these types of harmful behaviour. This can have serious consequences for the mental health and well-being of users. Furthermore, TikTok has been criticised for promoting a culture of perfection and unrealistic beauty standards, which can lead to body shaming and low self-esteem among users. This can be particularly harmful to teens, who are still developing their self-image and can be easily influenced by social media.

On December 22, videos with slideshows of sexual content started appearing on TikTok feeds and that sparked panic between users. Luckily, these videos have already been removed from the platform for violating the community guidelines, but this has again raised concerns on social media about the content users are consuming on the platform. While the internet, unfortunately, is filled with nudity, pornography and sexual content, over a quarter of TikTok users are teenagers under 20 and are especially vulnerable to what they see on the Internet. 

Another major concern with TikTok is the way it collects and uses personal data. The app has been criticised for its lack of transparency in this regard, with some accusing it of collecting vast amounts of user data without their knowledge or consent. This data, which can include sensitive information like location and browsing history, can then be sold to third parties for profit. An Australian cyber-security firm Internet 2.0 has warned about how TikTok is “excessively” collecting mass amounts of data from its users

What’s more worrying is the connection between TikTok’s mother company ByteDance and the Chinese government. The Chinese government holds a one percent share and one of three seats on the board of ByteDance, subsequently controlling all of its subsidiaries including TikTok. There has been criticism of TikTok censoring sensitive topics and information including Hong Kong protests, Xinjiang Uyghurs, LGBTQ, the Black Lives Matter movement and more. FBI director Christopher Wray warned about user’s data being sent to China and the hands of the government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to monitor the internet. In a speech that he gave at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, he stated the CCP has the ability to control the app’s recommendation algorithm, which allows them to manipulate content, and if they want to, to use it for influence operations. He also asserted that China could use the app to collect data on its users that could be used for traditional espionage operations.

It’s safe to say that while TikTok can provide a fun and entertaining platform for people to create and share short videos, it also carries a number of potential harms. In a report released by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), young people’s feeds are bombarded with harmful, harrowing content that can have a significant cumulative impact on their understanding of the world around them, and their physical and mental health. This report underscores the urgent need for reform of online spaces and TikTok in general.

Featured image: cottonbro studio on pexels

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