The detriments of TikTok

How to alleviate the negative impacts of TikTok on its teenage user base

The detriments of TikTok

Nishat Kazi

Despite starting out as a light-hearted app that teenagers use to make humorous content, TikTok, in many ways, has quickly transformed into a place where body shaming, bullying and other forms of hate are normalized. Not only do some posts excessively criticize and shame people for their pasts rather than educate or bring change, perpetuating cancel culture, but the app as a whole has also made an impact on the lifestyles of many teenagers around the world who use it on a daily basis.

The constant hate and bashing people are viewed as entertainment. However, what people don’t understand is that this is reality, not reality television. It impacts real people in a tangible way.  

Every couple of weeks, well-known creators are regularly bashed by what seems like the app’s entire user base for their past mistakes. For example, popular creators like Addison Rae was recently accused of “Black fishing,” which is when a person pretends to be Black using cosmetics and costumes. In early July, a past video of Rae surfaced where she claimed to support the All Lives Matter movement but not the Black Lives Matter movement. Around the same time, she also allegedly told another creator to say the N-word on a TikTok live stream

Rather than educating her or trying to spread awareness of the issues that she perpetuated, many TikTok users constantly spread hate towards individuals like Rae. After the matter surfaced, Rae faced hate comments from people comparing her to whales, body shaming her, making fun of her outfit choices and leaving constant reminders of her actions. Not only do users leave offensive comments on posts, but some also go the extra mile and make separate videos purely for the sake of body shaming or criticizing creators’ looks, often with no relevance to the victims’ mistake. 

Although their reasons for being angry with Rae are justified — racism and performative activism are valid reasons for criticism — body shaming her and criticizing her looks have nothing to do with the matter and doesn’t spread positive or concrete change, it just exacerbates hatred. The reason TikTok can be so toxic is that people use other people’s mistakes as an excuse to say hurtful things and further fuel drama.

Not only is TikTok flooded with harmful content that bashes people and their actions, the TikTok algorithm at times can be harmful as well. On the “For You Page”,  liking a couple videos relating to a subject will take up a person’s entire feed with videos relating to that topic. For example, liking a video of a girl meeting the societal standards of beauty who seemingly effortlessly dances to a new trending song on the app will populate ones’ entire “For You Page” with similar content.

During a time when everyone is on their devices for the majority of the day, and given the addictive nature of this app, teenagers are inevitably surrounded by people that they deem perfect at almost unachievable beauty standards, leading to constant comparisons and feeling inferior. According to surveys by Child Mind Institute, “Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.” As a social media app popular among teens, TikTok’s effects are most detrimental to the developing  teens that consistently use TikTok, which is about 6 in 10 teens in the U.S. 

TikTok also promotes eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. By posting videos of people counting their calories or showing how little they eat and what they do to eat a certain amount, TikTok can trigger all sorts of eating disorders, especially for those who have recently recovered from them or are in the process of doing so. And as mentioned previously, the algorithm of TikTok can potentially fill up a person’s feed if any videos related to these subjects are engaged with. Watching too many videos with content similar to this can lead to normalizing eating disorders towards teenagers.


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Additionally, the short 15- to 60-second videos that people can swipe through for hours causes it to be an extremely distracting app. According to a new study in Nature Communications, social media lowers attention span. The lack of ability to concentrate for a certain amount of time can also lead to lowered levels of productivity in terms of academics, because decreased attention span will make it harder to complete tasks that require time and active thinking.

In order to reduce the amount of content people see revolving around physical appearances, we can make it a habit to like different sorts of videos that we are interested in — cooking, arts and crafts and maybe even some political subjects — or spend less time on the “For You Page” and more time on the “Explore” page where one can actually look up topics they’re interested in. 

And in order to minimize the damage towards the attention span of teens, one can delete the app on weekdays and potentially redownload during the weekends as a limited source of entertainment. This will not only start to rebuild attention span by increasing it, it will also decrease the amount of negativity that is exposed to us.

Aside from all the hate and brewing insecurities of the app, TikTok can be a unique place where everyone around the world can be caught up on the same things, enjoying inside jokes with thousands of people they’ve never even met. Not to mention the perpetual trends that people can participate in and the countless opportunities to gain an audience. It is also a great app for consuming different kinds of entertainment. 

 However, Tiktok needs to have its limits, and be used with caution and mindfulness, because its overuse can be catastrophic.