Despite all the challenges TikTok is facing causing harm to young teens and even pushing them to the verge of hurting themselves and even committing suicide, the most famous app in the world apparently has new global ambitions to challenge Meta’s universe.
In early November, TikTok staff received a direct message from founder Zhang Yiming that hinted about some important restructuring of the business.
Six new units were being established, which left the staff wary of why the restructuring is happening — and why now? The company is expected to post healthy revenue growth of 60 percent this year, despite a challenging year of regulatory intervention at home and abroad. TikTok recently crossed 1 billion users outside China, and the company continues to ride high.
Only those who steered the company’s new direction have the precise answer. But according to the November 22, 2021 issue of online publication Wired, the reasons can be found in TikTok’s ambitions to be known for more than its video-sharing services — it wants to be as irreplaceable to the internet users in the future as Facebook has become now.
TikTok was the first non-Facebook app to cross 3 billion downloads worldwide, and more than one in four Brits and one in three Americans are estimated to use it every single month. But this is just one part of TikTok’s business — and its grip on its users could just be the beginning. Though few people realize it, the all-conquering short-form video app has eyes on capturing people’s attention at work, after it got the attention of young teens at school, even while adults listen to music, and while young teens play games.
By doing just that, the app’s parent company is trying to become a westernized Tencent or Alibaba. It wants to be perceived more as a Western company than a Chinese one.
And the only way for TikTok to do that is by following in the footsteps of Facebook. And with its great ambitions for the overseas markets, its competition with Facebook has become more apparent. For it to succeed in doing just that, more than 50 percent of its revenue has to come. It also needs to find new ways to more explicitly cash in on its billion-strong TikTok user base by introducing eCommerce and bumping up ad revenue.
TikTok’s growth in emerging markets could be an augur of what’s to come. But here’s the multi-multi-billion-dollar question: TikTok was a monster breakout hit; how is it now going to meet the challenge of the difficult second upgrade?
If it’s ever to succeed, it definitely would need the support from the Western brands out there.
This is happening already.
TikTok is strengthening its ties with Shopify and Spotify in the West. In May 2021, its parent company ByteDance quietly announced a login kit for TikTok, allowing people to access third-party apps through their TikTok profile, much in the same way people can sign up for Tinder or read news websites with their Facebook profile.
That will give the company more user data and the opportunity to gain income from that knowledge. It’s a pattern Facebook has previously followed to great success. When the company was first set up, it wanted to create an organization as borderless as Google and Facebook combined. Soon, it may be granted its wish.
However, this may not be as easy as it sounds. TikTok recently came under fire when it was accused of causing teens to develop strange mental behaviors, some of them related to a mental disorder known as the Tourette syndrome.
As a result, many TikTokers found themselves involuntarily cursing and slapping themselves online. What’s worse — more than 5 billion teens have been watching them communicating their suffering online.
This is becoming increasingly dangerous despite the app’s developers’ efforts to rectify the problem. Up till now, they have been largely unsuccessful. They realize no doubt that their app has become a “pandemic within a pandemic.” Because of it, teens are struggling with schoolwork. Because of it, they’re feeling more and more isolated, and more and more bruised.
According to psychologists, these abnormalities caused by the online app have resulted in more anxiety, depression, and even traumatic stress among teens. Rebecca Lester, a professor of sociocultural anthropology at Washington University, described the consequences as debilitating.
The problem of the TikTok teens suggests they’re in deep distress, and the online app is making their symptoms worse. German psychiatrist Kirsten Müller-Vahl described the TikTok outbreak as a mass social media-induced illness.
On November 17, 2021, the online publication Tech Crunch, wrote that TikTok has developed a bad reputation for hosting dangerous viral challenges on its app, which at their worst, have led to serious injury or death. More recently, the app has made headlines for challenges that have encouraged students to hit their teachers and destroy school property.
Reportedly, a child died from trying the blackout challenge, which involves asphyxiation on TikTok’s platform. What the investigation of that incident revealed is that TikTok can be a breeding ground for harmful content, like its viral challenges. They appeal to teens’ desire for approval from friends and peers as they result in more likes and views.
A recent study found that 21% of global teens have participated in these challenges, most of which are considered very risky and really dangerous. They direct children to engage in harmful activities that escalate to self-harm or suicide.
So far, TikTok has done little to address the issue. It is no longer that social media platform that lets users wind down while watching funny videos, viral sensations, and interesting challenges. Instead, it exposes users to dangerous challenges that have recently emerged on the platform, said the November 18 online issue of Screen Rant.
While the challenges are meant to be fun and engaging, it may be difficult for some children to decipher which ones are safe and which are not. Based on its own survey, TikTok has found that 46 percent of teens need to understand the risks involved.
A wide-eyed, dark-haired woman known as “Momo”
TikTok teens are getting caught up in frightening hoaxes on the app. New research conducted by TikTok found that less than a third of teens recognize these hoaxes as clearly fake. The rest, however, are becoming distressed by the scary hoaxes they see on the app, and nearly half of them are seeking out help afterward, says Global News online in its November 17 report.
The hoaxes vary, but a common one includes seemingly baseless warnings about a wide-eyed, dark-haired woman known as “Momo” who threatens users who don’t do the violent tasks she demands of them. Another is based on a rumor about a 50-step challenge that starts innocuously but ramps up to the final task — challenging users to commit suicide.
A black-out challenge required participants to choke themselves to the point they pass out and then wake up a few minutes later. While choking was dangerous in itself, the death of a 12-year-old trying to imitate this challenge brought this into perspective.
Why you should delete your account on TikTok?
With more than 1 billion monthly users, TikTok has taken the world by storm since its launch in September 2016. But like so many social media apps, it’s not all rosy. TikTok has a dark side to it that might make you think twice about using the app and more likely deleting it.
TikTok’s format of short videos has been linked to decreased attention spans when the app is used for more than 90 minutes a day. This problem has become so severe that TikTok was forced to hire influencers such as Gabe Erwin, Alan Chikin Chow, James Henry, and Cosette Rinab to ask users to take breaks. It even created pop-up warnings to encourage users to stop scrolling.
More than 60 percent of TikTok users are said to be under the age of 24. In March 2020, The Intercept got its hands on some internal TikTok documents that said moderators needed to suppress posts by users who were “too ugly, poor, or disabled”.
This is making TikTok’s problems and ambitions to replace Facebook worse, not better.
Don’t Try This at Home
Social media “challenges” are nothing new. Many of them are harmless fun and often raise money for a good cause. Who could forget classics such as the “ice bucket challenge” or the “mannequin challenge”?
However, some of them stray into dangerous territory, and this is where things get worrying. “Planking” was one of the early trendsetters, with people putting themselves in vulnerable positions, such as atop skyscrapers or on train tracks, just to grab an image for Instagram.
TikTok has taken the idea of dangerous challenges to new extremes. The “penny challenge”, in which you drop a penny between a wall socket and a plug, has started house fires, while the “skull breaker challenge”, which involves intentionally tripping people up, caused nasty injuries.
There is also the “devious licks” challenge, which encourages students to steal or vandalize school property. Several students have been arrested, and schools have been forced to spend money on fixing broken property.
All of this makes TikTok entirely inappropriate for kids, and yet they keep using the app.
TikTok’s dystopian data collection techniques
All the apps on our phones track us in some way, and in some way, we’ve accepted to learn to live with that. But while social media has always been one of the worst culprits, TikTok’s data collection techniques are particularly dystopian.
Yup — TikTok actively watches what you write in your messages to your friends, even if you never hit the send button.
It also requests access to your phone’s model, screen resolution, current OS, phone number, email address, location, keystroke patterns, and even contact lists. None of that seems important if you just want to watch 15-second clips.
It’s no exaggeration to say that TikTok is a danger to your privacy.
And that’s not where your problems with TikTok end. Many security researchers have found security vulnerabilities in the TikTok app. Hackers, for example, use your SMS messages to gain unauthorized access to your account.
And then there’s the issue of your mental health.
The toll on your brain comes in many forms. You’ll find ample cases of the usual social media scourges — harassment, abuse, and cyberbullying.
But the problem runs deeper. For example, many younger users have uploaded sexually provocative content, while there have also been cases of ex-partners attempting to ruin their previous partners’ lives by uploading videos and photos from their old relationships.
This has real-world consequences for users. In Egypt, five women have been sentenced to two years in prison for “violating public morals” in their TikTok videos.
Then there’s the never-ending stream of anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. There have even been cases of ISIS using the platform to promote their extremist propaganda.
All these issues can lead you on a path you don’t want to go down.
So, should you delete TikTok Today?
Back in 2018, the #DeleteFacebook movement took hold as users protested some of the company’s ulterior motives and suspicious practices.
But while Facebook is no angel and unquestionably deserves to be under the spotlight for the decisions it has taken in recent years, TikTok is a whole lot worse.
The bottom line is quite simple. You should not have an account, you should not have the app on your phone, and you should not encourage other users to sign up.