Some experts claim that TikTok could impact a generation – from mental health to national security.
ARKANSAS, USA – Every day, a billion users spend millions of hours – all on the popular social media app TikTok.
The social media app can boost careers, educate and connect people around the world — but it’s growing faster than regulators can regulate.
Now some officials have raised concerns about its ownership by a Chinese parent company.
The world has seen the onslaught on sites like Instagram and Facebook continue in recent years, but what we’re seeing on TikTok has become unprecedented.
It’s a format that experts say could impact an entire generation on everything from mental health to national security.
TikTok is growing like never before in an app and is used by a billion people every month. The platform offers users an endless choice of entertainment, education, news and a place to create their own videos.
Some students at Mills High School in Little Rock spend their time scrolling, and according to Pew Research, two-thirds of all teenagers use it to find and get information.
According to Cloudfare, a website that tracks internet traffic, people are using TikTok over more traditional search engines like Google.
“My way of expressing myself is by liking a video or talking about something,” shared senior Karli Redd.
“It gives you access to a lot more of a bigger side of the world,” added senior Sebastian Romero, “It’s a lot easier to use because not only is it what you’re looking for, but there’s a multitude of ways how you can do it can see the same.”
And the kids have a point – with an endless feed of information, there’s a lot to learn.
“Like tying a tie, instead of having to scroll through YouTube or Google or something, there are videos all over it. And then they’re less than two or three minutes to watch,” Romero explained.
Junior Kamrin Moore added that he studies with the app and said: “I just found out that you can apply to colleges in your junior year. I did not know it.”
But with an endless feed of information, there is also a lot of misinformation out there.
Looking at a typical TikTok feed, videos can claim almost anything — for example, that a plane crash happened in someone’s neighborhood, when in reality it was on a movie set.
Users can report things like misinformation or objectionable content, and TikTok can and will then add warnings to some videos, although there’s no guarantee a video will be flagged or removed.
Ariane Datil’s job as a journalist at Verify is to fact-check stories, including whether viral social media videos on apps like TikTok are true.
“We’re trying to be as present in the app as possible, finding misinformation as soon as it reaches us and debunking it as quickly as possible,” Datil said.
The Verify team has its own following on the app, helping users navigate their next swipe without knowing what’s going to play next.
“It won’t tell you anything… now that you turn on your local news, it’ll just be a face or a graphic. And it’s up to you to really find out if the information you’re consuming is legitimate,” Datil added.
NaTasha Thorne, a licensed eunoia therapy and self-development therapist, said some of this misinformation has led to teens diagnosing themselves with disorders consistent with the creators they see on TikTok without consult a doctor first
“ADHD is often depression and anxiety…dissociative identity disorder, the multiple personalities…it almost becomes a self-fulfilling cycle…we see a lot of teens self-diagnosing, which can be problematic,” Dorn said.
This all happens with little oversight from an app that monetizes views. Thorne adds that “making money and profiting from mental illness is really becoming a problem.”
But still, users keep coming back for more.
Thorne explained that the app can get people addicted, saying, “When you post and get a like or something… the reward center in your brain gets activated… it’s addictive because you get used to that dopamine rush.”
And Thorne added that she’s still not sure how that will affect teen development.
“Not being able to access TikTok and not having access to TikTok? It’s really affecting… their socialization at that point,” Thorne said.
This can be especially true for teenagers in high school.
“You could send one thing to someone else, they can send it to someone else, and then suddenly everyone knows what you’re talking about,” Romero added.
And while videos are only a few seconds overall, users spend nearly 200 million hours a day on the platform, according to The Wall Street Journal — more than any other social media site
Newcomer K’lea Bunting shared, “It depends on the day. So I can spend up to three or four hours depending on it.”
TikTok tailors content to users’ interests based on location and the way each person interacts with each video.
But TikTok does this in a more niche way than many other social platforms and therefore only creates a timeline For her. So while users are learning through TikTok, TikTok is learning about them.
“I know it personally, my phone is listening to me. So I can talk about cows or something at school or soccer, and I’ll open my TikTok and it’ll show up on my For You page,” Redd added.
Learning artificial intelligence might feel daunting to some, but for these kids it’s just the cost of doing business.
“It’s more of a trade… You make money by watching, liking and commenting on me. And I benefit from that, you know, I get laughs, I get fun,” Moore explained.
The Homeland Security Committee takes a different view of the app and its Chinese-owned parent company — they’re concerned it’s not clear who can see the information TikTok learns about users.
Geoffrey Cain, senior fellow for critical emerging technologies at Lincoln Network TikTok, presented his concerns to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in September.
“Americans face the serious and unprecedented threat of software in our pockets that contains powerful surveillance and data collection capabilities owned by private companies,” Cain said. “TikTok is therefore a disaster waiting for our safety and the privacy of our citizens.”
But the app has become a double-edged sword after booming during the pandemic. During that time, TikTok has undeniably connected people and information like never before.
“It fosters that sense of belonging and community,” Thorne said.
Moore also offered some advice for anyone considering downloading and using the app.
“I would say if you download TikTok, come with a strong mind. A strong heart… and a weak sense of humor,” she said.
“I think in the history of news, we’ve expected people to come to us… And now we need to meet people where they are, and now they’re on TikTok,” Datil added.
With an endless feed of information about an app that continues to grow, we may not know the future of TikTok, but we do know that there are ways to scroll more consciously.
TikTok’s impact extends beyond this story – from helping children with their homework to passing legal advice to changing the way the music industry sells records.
We still have a lot to learn about TikTok, but it’s always better to be more informed about the risks you’re taking online.
With an endless feed of information – about an app that continues to grow – we may not know the future of TikTok – but we do know that there are ways to scroll more consciously.