The dark side of Tik-Tok
In February 2019, TikTok, the app formerly known as Musical.ly, hit one billion downloads. 1 billion people all over the world have come together on the app to upload or watch funny, creative and original clips. However, among videos of kids lip syncing and parents dancing to songs, you’ll find insensitive clips ridiculing people of color, making fun of children with special needs or mocking people’s hobbies. TikTok provides a platform for those who are looking to express their derogatory opinions and practice, albeit mild, hate speech.
In an effort to follow what is popular, teenagers and other TikTok users often imitate the videos that appear on the “For You” page. The “For You” page functions in the same way as Instagram’s “Explore” page and the YouTube “Home” pages; an algorithm calculates what the user’s interests are based on recent searches and what videos they have liked or shared. The videos users find on the “For You” page have anywhere from thousands to millions of views.
The toxic mentality of doing anything for likes applies to all social media, and TikTok is no exception. In an effort to get their videos on the “For You” page to acquire views and likes, users post videos they think will gain the most traction, regardless of content. The meaning of videos are often ignored, and the outrage factor is utilized to the creator’s advantage; after all, the more comments on the post, the more likely it is to make an appearance on the “For You” page.
After a few minutes of scrolling down the “For You” page of my newly created TikTok account, I stumbled across several videos that I considered unsafe or insensitive. Despite TikTok claiming it reviews videos for guideline violations, several of these videos have popped up on my “For You” page. Videos that caught my eye in particular were ones in which users made duets with handicapped people or referenced videos made by handicapped people, with the intent of mocking them. Other insensitive videos depict teenagers mocking Harriet Tubman’s struggles, satirizing Rosa Parks’ experiences, referring to others as gay simply for playing a particular sport and flaunting their wealth.
Perhaps what makes TikTok such a popular platform for these videos is its accessibility: no age requirement is enforced on the app. A younger, more impressionable audience is exposed to skits with derogatory slurs and insensitivity. Before these children can even be taught what is acceptable and what is not, harmful content is forced on them and shapes their opinions on topics they have no prior knowledge of. After downloading, it’s not necessary to make an account in order to view others’ videos on the “For You” page, nor do you need an account to post content. Users are more willing to post offensive content when they do not have to create an account because it eliminates the need to attach their identity to their videos. They become more willing to openly voice their thoughts, regardless of how these thoughts may affect others.
The issue of insensitive content on a widely popular social media platform is not a new one. Twitter and YouTube have dealt with controversial creators, like Alex Jones of “InfoWars” and right wing activist Milo Yiannopoulos, by banning them from their respective social media sites and adjusting their guidelines to cover a wider range of violations. For every large creator who is caught and punished for his or her actions, there are thousands of small-scale accounts posting content just as offensive.
Most of the videos TikTik chooses to takedown include activities that could be dangerous if replicated. However, a more in-depth review of the content on its app would reveal the hate filled posts that are uploaded as “jokes”. A more clear idea of what is considered appropriate and what is not should be presented to users of TikTok. That being said, stronger action should be taken against users who use TikTok to spread hate. TikTok should follow in the footsteps of YouTube and Twitter by suspending and banning users who are found in violation of the community guidelines, rather than simply deleting their offensive video from the platform.
TikTok’s massive following and appealing concept mainly caters to young adults, with 41% of users being between 16 and 24, according to www.oberlo.com. By normalizing offensive content and insensitive material, the morals and values of the youth are shifting. Though the problem may seem minimal now, issues like these can snowball into masses of people forgetting how to be decent human beings and become far more difficult to manage. Addressing the problem now will prevent the youth of today from becoming ignorant to the struggles of people who are different from them.
By Bhalpriya Sandhu, Scene editor
Editorial cartoon by Joy Wang