In 2021, the social video app TikTok had approximately 78.7 million users in the U.S. Launched in 2016 under the former name musical.ly, Tik-Tok’s users are largely Generation Z, born 1997-2012. TikTok became the most visited site on the internet, overtaking Instagram in popularity.
Here’s how it works: Viewers can find similar videos using an algorithm fueled by the users’ previous likes. Artificial intelligence is guided by previously liked content: did they finish watching the videos? Its recommendation engine then chooses videos to send to those viewers. The content varies for different people due to their set algorithm on their “For You Page.”
The Hidden Dangers
TikTok’s algorithm has the potential of catapulting a nobody into millions of viewers “For You Page.” This rapid rise to fame with its wide viewership is very appealing to teenagers, especially during the pandemic. Although some of the videos are funny, creative, others have attracted sexual predators due to scantily-clad teenage girls (the predator can next switch to email in which he will arrange a meeting).
But TikTok has another hidden danger: it glorifies drug use and its effects in some of its videos.
Although the platform’s terms of service bans users under the age of thirteen and require users under 18 to have parental consent to use the app, Tik Tok doesn’t verify registrations. In a statement, TikTok added “our community guidelines clearly state that we don’t permit content depicting the use or trade of drugs or other controlled substances.”
TikTok has banned some drug hashtags including cocaine and mdma (“ecstasy,”), but some promote Ketamine or “Special K,” LSD and Magic Mushrooms. The latter are not blocked by the company’s filters. Consequently, there were 13.8 million searches for ketamine, a horse tranquilizer, 5.1 million searches for mdma and 4.3 million searches for “pinging” ( slang term for ecstasy).
One video shows “Special K” (like the cereal) being fed on a spoon to a user. Another illustrates the users suffering from the come downs such as the powerful dissociative effect of the drug, popularly known as being in a “Khole”! Ketamine can cause a loss of feeling in the body and paralysis of the muscles.
What Parents Can Do: Guidelines from The Wall St. Journal, 2-8-22
- Use parental controls. TikTok allows family pairing whereby you can link their own accounts to your teen’s, to enable content and privacy settings such as setting time limits, restricting content types. You can also turn off messaging and restrict who can send direct messages to your teen.
- Monitor Your Child’s Feed. Although teens can create secret accounts, you can see their feed. It will give you a view into their world and what they are seeing. Therapists and child-safety experts recommend that you watch TikToks together.
And if these videos aren’t enough to worry about, your teen can become obsessed with his numbers of viewers, robbing him of sleep, and other more worthwhile activities.
Wesley Cullen Davidson
Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.