TikTok Grows Up

February 10, 2022

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Claudia Black Young Adult Center

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By Anna McKenzie

TikTok was once a scrappy, exciting social media platform that served up dance videos, tutorials, and humorous content from users regardless of their number of likes or followers. Without gatekeeping algorithms that showed preference to popular content, users were able to enjoy a fun, free-for-all of interesting and seemingly harmless video clips. But those days are long gone. Though TikTok is still known for its whimsical, amusing content, it has a serious dark side. From being suspected as a vessel for spyware to its way of dragging users down a rabbit hole of edgier and more explicit content, TikTok has come of age in a dangerous way. 

What seems like harmless entertainment on the app is at best time-consuming, and at worst, mentally and emotionally damaging. Learning how TikTok is used and how to moderate your time on the app (or quit using it completely) can be important for preserving your well-being and attention span.

What seems like harmless entertainment on the app is at best time-consuming, and at worst, mentally and emotionally damaging.

The Rise of TikTok Marketing

The most important thing to remember about all social media platforms is that they are not free. You join for free, but that means the companies running these platforms have another way to make money: selling your attention and/or your data.

This is one of the reasons why TikTok can be dangerous. According to Statista Charts, TikTok’s largest user base is the 10 to 19 age group (25%). Children and teens do not fully understand the way their attention and data are being utilized. They are the most likely to be subconsciously swayed by TikTok marketing. They are fair game for advertising, influencers, and a content algorithm that is known to serve up riskier videos and subject matter. In fact, kids may easily be exposed to graphic content or topics that are highly inappropriate for their developmental level. Parents who think the app is harmless should read more about the Wall Street Journal investigation that uncovered TikTok’s dark rabbit holes

CNBC reports that TikTok has more than one billion monthly active users, with Wallaroo reporting the average user spending nearly an hour on the platform daily. So, there’s plenty of attention for sale. TikTok’s yearly revenue has already exceeded $500 million, a number that is bound to grow, given that ads on TikTok are relatively new. Additionally, TikTok influencer marketing has taken off. What’s most important is that users are cognizant of how they are being persuaded to conform to certain lifestyles.

TikTok and Mental Health

Social media platforms do not have a reputation for improving mental health, and TikTok is no exception. Reader’s Digest shared a list of negative effects, including how they can influence your spending, affect your appetite, adversely alter your view of yourself and the world, ruin your ability to multitask effectively, and rewire your brain to crave the constant “reward” of likes and comments.

In addition to potentially exposing users to edgier content, TikTok has had a strange psychosomatic effect on some, according to Wallaroo research. A surprising number of teens seem to have suffered from outbursts of swearing and uncontrollable tics after watching videos with the “#Tourette” hashtag. This is just one incidence of young users being subconsciously influenced by content that is being served up to them through the app. 

The cherry on top is that TikTok may still be manipulating user data in ways we aren’t fully aware. In 2020, Reader’s Digest highlighted it as a possible national security risk. Right now, TikTok is owned by a Chinese company whose motives related to collecting and mining user data are unclear, and it should not at all be assumed that they are benign.

How to Moderate Social Media Usage

If you want to improve your mental health and well-being, protect your data, and salvage your attention span, here are some ways to moderate your use of TikTok and other social media platforms:

  • Decide when you’ll check (and when you won’t)

Maybe you check your feed at noon and 6 p.m., and that’s it. By creating a container for your use of social media, your focus won’t be fractured by constant checking and scrolling.

  • Set a timer

Do you want to spend 30 minutes on TikTok? Go ahead. Set a timer for 30 minutes and watch away. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy the content without letting it soak up big chunks of your day. You’ll also be far more aware of what you’re doing than when you just spend time on the app randomly.

If you find that you’re compulsively using social media platforms, it may be time for a digital detox.

  • Define why you want to use these apps

What do you want out of them? Why are you using them? If you can’t give a good reason, maybe there’s something else that you’d like to spend your time on. If you do have good reasons, remember them while using.

If you find that you’re compulsively using social media platforms, it may be time for a digital detox. Your mood and sense of self-worth is being shaped by the attention you receive online; stepping back will give you a chance to restore your perspective.

Help for Mental Health Issues

Are you suffering from severe anxiety or depression? We can help. At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we provide research-backed treatment that can put you on the path to healing from mental health issues. Contact our team today to learn more about our programs and how we can help you thrive again.