What TikTok is doing to your mental health: "It's a shame we know so little" (2023)

Ia few years after its founding,TIK Tokhas already changed the face of the social media landscape, attracting over a billion users and leading competitors to replicate some of its most unique features.

Experts warn that the impact of this explosive growth and the general "tikTokization" of the Internet on social media users remains poorly understood, adding to concerns about the impact of social media on our habits and mental health.

"It's a shame that we know so little about TikTok and its effects," said Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. "Research often lags behind industry, and this is an example of a case where that can become a big problem."

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Experts say the lack of understanding of TikTok's impact on users is particularly concerning given the app's huge popularity among young people. More and morecalled"TikTok generation", generation Z will prefer this platform to other social media, includingnearly six out of 10 teenagersare counted as daily users. Most teens in the US have TikTok accounts - 67% say they have ever used the app and 16% say they use it "almost all the time".

"We owe it to ourselves and the users of these platforms to understand how the screens we use are changing us and how we use them," said Michael Rich, a pediatrician who studies the impact of technology on children at Children's Hospital in Boston.

"We need more information to make informed decisions about how to help younger people understand how to use them carefully and carefully - or not use them at all."

What makes TikTok different?

Concerns about the impact of social media activity on mental health have been around for a long time and have intensified in recent years. For example, in 2021internal investigationAn Instagram post by Frances Haugen showed the photo app's drastic impact on teenage users' mental health - including an increased rate of eating disorders among teenage girls - and sparked widespread calls for tougher legislation.

Ale TikTokcontains similar harmful content, and experts warn that many of the platform's innovative features raise unique concerns.

TikTok heavily optimizes content for minutes and hours watched,internal documentsleaked in 2021 instead of prioritizing metrics like clicks and engagement that most social media platforms have favored in the past. To this end, the company developed a unique algorithm and landing page that marks the most extreme shift from chronological to algorithmic flow.

"We don't know what effect this has on the brain," said Lorenz-Spreen.

Research shows that the algorithm often generates more extreme impressions when you reject the time frame in favor of featured content. The 2021 report showed over70% extremist contentfound on YouTube was recommended to users by an algorithm. It also encourages users to share eye-catching content that attracts attention on the stream.

In recent years, TikTok has come under intense scrutiny for dangerous algorithmic challenges. The Benadryl Challenge, in which participants took large amounts of antihistamines in an attempt to induce a hallucinogenic effect, led to at leastdeath. New lawsuit includes 'obfuscation challenge'ended in deathmany young girls.

"Compared to other social networking sites, TikTok is exceptionally rewarding," said Rich, a pediatrician. "This leads to both interesting content and harsh, less healthy ways to get attention."

TikTok also appears to be "catching interest faster than any other platform," said Marc Faddoul, co-director of Tracking Exposure, a digital rights organization that is researching the TikTok algorithm. The For You page in the app seems to know the needs and interests of its users so well that it has spawned memes and articles such asThe TikTok algorithm knew my sexuality better than I didI 'Why is my TikTok For You page only for lesbians? asks the Woman, who will soon understand why.

Researchers are still analyzing what this odd customization means for users, especially regarding targeted content about mental illness and other sensitive issues.

"The app provides an endless stream of emotional cues that can be hard to identify and really impact users in the long run," said Faddoul. "It won't make anyone depressed overnight, but drinking hours each day can have a serious impact on mental health."

These concerns are particularly acute with ADHD content, where users experience such issuesreported to be diagnosedby doctors after watching videos of their symptoms. However, while the popularity of the #ADHD hashtag has increased awareness of the disease, experts warn of unintended negative effects, including medical misinformation, especially as a platformaccepts advertising moneyfrom many for-profit mental health startups such as Cerebral.

TikTok declined to comment on criticism of misinformation about user health and self-diagnosis based on content displayed on the app. She also declined to comment on her partnership with mental health start-up Cerebral or the policy regarding medical information used in advertisements.

What TikTok is doing to your mental health:

An algorithm can recreate existing disparities that raise concerns about the mental health of minority groups, researchers say. Creators of black content on TikTok have itcomplained for a long timeabout "blocking" or degrading their content by an algorithm and in 2019 TikTokpleaded guilty to censorshipvideos of users identified as disabled, overweight or LGBTQ+ in a failed attempt to combat bullying.

"TikTok users of color have to constantly think about how the algorithm is tracking them," said Chelsea Peterson-Salahuddin, an Internet researcher at the University of Michigan Information School. "Planning marginalized people on the burden of constant self-monitoring is very mentally and emotionally taxing."

"Creates a substitute for social interaction"

Researchers say the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the impact of the platform on the lives of users, especially young people. When Covid-19 hit and the world went into lockdown, the use of TikTok exploded.

The app was flooded with young people posting about how the pandemic had turned their lives upside down. There has been a very young user base who use the app to connect with each other in a very vulnerable moment, said Yim Register, a mental health and social media researcher.

"The biggest impacts of a pandemic come with a lot of uncertainty, and under uncertainty, our brain wants to reduce uncertainty and make sense of the world," Register said. "We want to be able to predict exactly what's going to happen, so we're turning to social media to understand it together."

Register said the ethos contributed to TikTok's unique "platform spirit," a term coined by researcher Michael Ann Devito to describe the nature of the app's content and communication.

"It seems that the spirit of the TikTok platform is to post very loudly about very intimate and intense things," said Register. "And people are being encouraged to be vulnerable to fit that spirit."

This has led to the creation of viral videos that ironically tell often devastating personal stories. "What people have been telling me online since my sister died of addiction," reads one video, which has 3.5 million views, showing a user dancing to upbeat music and lights. "What my ex-boyfriend told me when I held my dead babies in my arms," ​​another video was captioned with the same music and dancing.

There has already been a backlash on the platform itself due to the increasingly personal nature of the application. "I truly believe that in a few years people will deeply regret the trauma they experienced on TikTok."says one userin a viral video, adding that such content is less frequently shared on Facebook and YouTube. "What is it about TikTok that makes people discover their deepest and dirtiest secrets?"

Experts agree that while these types of videos can provide support and a creative way to deal with grief, they can also lead to additional trauma.

“For many people, disclosing abuse or mental health issues can be traumatic and damaging,” said Rich, a child mental health expert. “In clinical work, we have systems in case of disclosure – there is a safety net that can catch them. And that doesn't exist in a social networking environment."

The researchers say the risk is increased by the anonymous nature of TikTok, whose flow differs from social media flows in the past. While apps like Facebook have historically offered a stream of personal content, mostly from friends and family, on TikTok, most people watching user videos are largely strangers.

"Especially with TikTok, due to the large user base and the way the algorithm works, videos can potentially get very large very quickly, which not everyone is prepared for," Register said. "Being in the virus has serious consequences."

Commentators often demand more engagement with viral TikToks, often refraining from "talk time?" encouraging the original poster to work through the traumatic part. The document says these types of issues have prompted more researchers to call for better user protection.

"Most computers are not traumatized, and the lack of information on social media about trauma can exacerbate it," Register stated. "When I look at social media, the question is not how does it affect your mental health, but how do the mental health problems you already have get worse?"

TikTok w marcu 2021 rwas introducednew "kindness" tools in the app, allowing users to more easily filter spam and offensive comments; An automatic popup message has also been added for users who leave potentially infringing comments, asking them to "reconsider".

“Our goal is to create a positive environment where people are supportive and uplifting,” said Tara Wadhwa, director of American policy at TikTok.

Meanwhile, TikTok's opaque algorithm is slowly opening up. Chinese in Augustregulatory authorities are requiredTikTok made its algorithms available for review, and the company started allowing Oracle to review them around the same timecontent control models. Rich said this is just the beginning and more transparency is needed.

“Legislators and these companies need to invest more in understanding the interface between human nature and these platforms,” he said.

"We need more information to make informed decisions about how to help younger people understand how to use them carefully and carefully - or not use them at all."


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