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What’s so Problematic About TikTok?


TikTok has quickly become a social media craze. Even Cher’s on TikTok. This popular app lets you create, edit, and share videos across multiple social media platforms. Given the app’s reach, with 62 million installs in January 2021 alone, you can reach people all over the world. Some hashtags are reaching billions of users. 

TikTok has made social media content creation easy enough to do from your phone. You can edit clips, add music and visual effects, and almost instantly build a huge audience to “go viral.” But there are still a few problematic aspects to this app. It has been in the news a lot, not necessarily for good reasons, for an app that lets teenagers do dance challenges.

TikTok has even invaded our lexicon as the eponymous short videos have joined the ranks of Googling, Tweets, and Instagram as words we now use. So what makes people watching TikToks such a problem? The short answer is the company is owned by China and has a bunch of unsupervised youngsters playing around online. But there’s more to it than that. 

1. It’s confusing. 

Some resistance to TikTok is the same resistance to any new technology. Not as many adults are on TikTok because it can be confusing. TikTok’s editorial and social media features are so robust and thorough it can be overwhelming for some new users. You can put together a 15-second video with filters, captions, voice-over, music clips, and quickly share it across all of your social media profiles. That’s no small feat. 

The irony is you may have to watch a few TikTok videos to learn how to get better at TikTok. The complex nature of TikTok can keep the app from finding advocates. And it’s always easier to focus on the more negative aspects of the Chinese app, than try to understand it. Technologically challenged adults can quickly lend to the voices calling out the problems with TikTok.

2. It’s owned by China 

TikTok, and its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, are both owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Given the last U.S. administration’s trade war with China, there was general concern over the information that gets collected by the app. Like most apps, TikTok collects user information that it shares with third parties. This has caused some concerns for American privacy and security. But TikTok’s data collection is similar, if not more conservative, than Facebook’s

Donald Trump may have been banned on Twitter for his toxic relationship with social media, but his issues with TikTok actually forced change. His executive order, trying to ban TikTok, forced the app to acquire American stakeholders. The administration brokered a deal so Oracle and Walmart could become major American stockholders in the company. This has helped resolve some concerns. 

The tenuous relationship between China and the US does cause some concerns. The Biden administration has expanded on the executive order and is still keeping an eye on businesses with foreign ties for the sake of American security. 

3. Unsupervised Minors on the App

While there is the ability to use parental controls on your child’s cell phone and TikTok does have Community Guidelines, there’s still the potential for nudity, adult content, or hate speech reaching your children while they’re using the app. 

Users must be at least 13 years old to use the app. TikTok does have technology that can limit content with certain curse words or themes and is also moderated. But there are popular TikTok trends including dance challenges that galvanize the fandom. 

For example, the Silhouette challenge set to the Doja Cat song “The Streets,” features users dancing or acting to a slow part of the song, and when the tempo shifts they do something in the dark that’s often edgier or sexier. There also was the Invisible challenge where users used a filter to appear invisible. But there still was the potential for nudity content available on the app with this challenge. 

Now, there is the potential for nude or adult content to be seen by youngsters. There’s also the potential for young people to join in on sexy or more adult trends. TikTok does have the Family Pairing feature to help you restrict what your children see, however.

TikTok’s popularity doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. It has led to Facebook/Instagram introducing a Reels feature which lets users post short videos and allows users to repost content from TikTok. TikTok doesn’t collect any more information than any apps owned by American companies. So the government’s issue with China collecting information might be more of an eye-opener for how we manage our own cybersecurity.

These problems are just some insight into the public political debates over an app that features kids dancing and cracking jokes. But it does seem like TikTok is here to stay and here’s hoping that some of this increased insight into the app will allow us all to look at how apps, both foreign and domestic, may be problematic in some ways.

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