Scrolling through TikTok, I can see how it bewitches kids.
One minute a pig meanders through the mountains; the following adorable puppies clamor for food until three teens doing a funny trick involving their mouths and a credit card demand your attention.
Let’s face it, TikTok is fun, like bubble gum for your eyes.
With Instagram and Facebook, scratch the glossy veneer, and you’ll see a sinister side. TikTok is no exception.
But with the New York Times estimates that a third of its users may be 14 or under, isn’t it time we found out more?
Is TikTok the new Facebook?
TikTok, a short-form video app, launched in 2017 and blew up during the pandemic. In September, its Chinese owner, Bytedance, announced it had more than 1 billion monthly users.
But it’s not just the stratospheric rise of TikTok that reminds us of Facebook back when. It’s the release of the TikTok login toolkit in May this year. With this humble feature, you can log into hundreds of apps using your TikTok account instead of Facebook, transforming TikTok into your portal to the internet.
A development that had Zuckerberg spitting up his Gatorade, I’m sure.
Does TikTok have a sinister side?
Thanks to Frances Haugen’s three-hour testimony before a Senate Subcommittee, we now know for sure Zuckerberg puts profit before the well-being of kids. In contrast, TikTok’s dark side is more opaque.
Considering that 32.5% of users are in the age range of 10–19, it’s high time to explore its sinister side.
Did TikTok suppress posts by ugly, disabled, and poor people?
It all seems so simple. Dance, cook, do something absurd, film yourself, and upload your clip. Just be creative. Who knows, you might go viral.
The viral promise is a powerful one. If it worked for Charli D’Amelio, why not your kids?
Like winning the lottery, TikTok fame is a long shot, but only within reach if you don’t have ‘facial deformities,’ fangs for teeth, or any apparent disabilities. Not only do these ‘flaws’ diminish your chances. But that hideous sofa your aunt donated could be enough for TikTok to invisibly ban your video from the’ For You’ firehose, where moderators funnel videos to fame.
“This kind of environment is not that suitable for new users for being less fancy and appealing.” is TikTok’s justification in its internal moderation documents published by The Intercept. These guidelines instructed moderators to suppress uploads containing the above ‘flaws.’
Simply put, your child’s disability could make the difference between her going viral or staying invisible.
the policies mentioned represented an effort at preventing bullying, but are no longer in place, and were already out of use when The Intercept obtained them.
However, Gartner declines to explain why they don’t mention bullying or why there is a heavy emphasis on attracting new users.
Beauty algorithm: how does your face measure up?
If a creator scores high for facial symmetry and beauty, her video will do better than if she scores a lower attractiveness score.The methodology for the beauty algorithm seems to be something like the one in ‘A Diverse Benchmark Dataset for Multi-Paradigm Facial Beauty Prediction’ by Chinese scientists.
Scoring people on beauty is nothing new for social media. You might remember Zuckerberg’s first attempt at Facebook — FaceMash — set up to rate female students’ attractiveness.
Does TikTok have a race problem?
Considering TikTok’s model of epitomized beauty is based on several studies of ‘ideal’ beauty standards, such as light skin, large eyes, and a small nose. Some might argue it pushes creators like Bella Poarch into the limelight and leaves BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) creators with fewer chances of going viral.
But, while we don’t know whether BIPOC creators get lost in TikTok’s beauty algorithm, a study done by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue shows videos glorifying racism and white supremacy are plentiful. Researchers analyzed 1,030 videos over three months last year and 312 (nearly a third) amplified white power.
Harmful content finds your child faster than you think
Not only are communities, minorities or groups of people like African Americans being targeted, those who target them are also being praised, shared and glorified on the platform.
And so, researchers say it takes less than 30 seconds to find harmful content. Worse, tech advocacy organization Reset Australia discovered it only takes four hours for the algorithm to learn that a 13-year-old is interested in racism.
Trending on TikToK: nosejobs
It’s not just racists posting on TikTok. Encouraged by unscrupulous digital marketing agencies, predatory plastic surgeons have woken up to the potential goldmine of insecure teens craving the ‘TikTok’ look. Rhinoplasty is the most popular procedure, with the #nosejob racking up over 1.6 billion views.
These views don’t just come from TikTokers but also include medical practitioners promoting their surgery.
Rhinoplasty is a relatively tame topic compared to a lot of other stuff on TikTok. If you want to look at the negatives, you have worse things like teenagers dancing in bikinis.
Considering the hashtag #plasticsurgery has over 9.6 billion views, it is no surprise it took an Insider journalist’s fictional 14-year old’s account just eight minutes of scrolling until a surgery promotion appeared on its For You page.
How can you protect your child from TikTok’s dark side?
With all of these issues and more (dangerous challenges, predators lurking, and aggressive data collection), you may wonder how you can keep your child safe. Here are a few pointers.
- Find out more about TikTok by downloading and exploring the app.
- Check out TikTok’s updated safety guidelines and use the digital well-being guide.
- Use the Family Pairing feature to manage your kid’s TikTok settings.
- Talk to your child about cyberbullying and safe sharing.
- Have an ongoing dialogue about online safety & inappropriate content.
It all boils down to this
While Tiktok is fun for Gen-Z, it’s a headache for parents. Just like Instagram and Facebook, scratch TikTok’s shiny surface, and an uglier side will rear its head.
Thanks to its dystopian beauty algorithm, your children are exposed to an ever-narrower beauty ideal, leading them neatly to the platform’s endemic plastic surgery promotions.
So how can you keep your kids safe without hovering over their every move? It’s possible, and following the above guidelines is a good start.
So let’s keep our kids safe when they’re having fun.
Previously Published on Medium