TikTok is dangerous if not used with caution

The news headlines speak for themselves

text style sad face in tik tok logo colours
ILLUSTRATION: Raissa Sourabh / The Peak

By: Hannah Kazemi, Staff Writer

Content warning: mentions of disordered eating

Writing this piece makes me a bit of a hypocrite. I have TikTok, and scroll endlessly on my feed. I don’t post videos of my own, but I’ll admit my excessive time online is predominantly due to TikTok. That being said, I can love the app and criticize it at the same time: TikTok can be dangerous if not used properly.

I think many people feel this way — we know in theory that spending too much time on TikTok has the potential to do damage, namely to people’s long-term attention spans and mental health. Some psychologists have studied “TikTok brain:” a phenomenon stemming from excessive use that impacts kids’ ability to stay focused, be productive, and maintain concentration for longer periods of time.

More importantly, the app has proven to be a breeding ground for harmful content, especially for children and teenagers who are more impressionable and base a lot of their self-worth off the people they watch online.

TikTok has been in the news since its launch because of trends and “challenges” that have spawned from popular videos. This includes clips that showcase borderline illegal and dangerous activities: people have died attempting the “blackout challenge,” which encourages users to hold their breath until passing out, and the “devious licks” challenge encourages teens to steal things like soap dispensers from their school or stop signs from the street. 

The hypersexualization and exploitation of young children should also spark concern, as should “what I eat in a day” videos filled with body-checking that perpetuates toxic ideas of what young peoples’ bodies should look like. These types of videos have inspired trends like the “corpse bride diet” and videos where women show off how skinny they are by either wrapping a pair of headphones around their waist or holding up a piece of A4 printer paper against themselves. With the fast-paced nature of the app allowing new content to be posted and reproduced in minutes, it’s no surprise that seemingly harmless videos of someone doing something silly or mundane can turn into a dangerous viral trend so suddenly.

I don’t think people should ditch the app altogether, since other studies have shown TikTok is beneficial for inspiring creativity and self-expression in users, because there really are no limits on how creators can express themselves. Users have the ability to quickly reach a wide audience, so they can spread awareness about important social issues. People inspire change in a way that hasn’t really been possible before. Teens and youth are being exposed to important issues, like climate change and racial injustice, in a way they can easily digest. These are some of the app’s biggest positives.

At its core, a lot of good comes out of TikTok. I find myself laughing and awwww-ing at most of the videos flashing across my screen. Creative and positive trends catch on the same way that harmful trends do. Yet, browsing should still be approached with caution. Because at any given moment you can come across equally uplifting or damaging content, without knowing how it will affect you. It’s like playing roulette every time you open the app. You never know what your “For You” page is going to show you that day.