TikTok Could Be Dangerous for Mental Health, Faces Inquiry

TikTok is being investigated for its potential negative effects on young people's mental health.
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TikTok is currently under investigation by a coalition of state attorneys general across the US. The group of AGs is investigating the social media company’s operations, checking for any possible adverse effect its contents can have on young adults, teens, and children.

A press release from one of the lead AGs on the case, Maura Healey, says, “the investigation will mainly focus on the methods and techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including increasing the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.”

daily hours spent with digital media per adult user
Credit: Ourworldindata.org under CC BY

The law is trying to determine what’s happening under the hood and why the platform performs better at capturing youths’ engagement than others in the game. Last year, an article published by The Verge shows the decline of Facebook (now Meta) and also talks about how on average, teens spend twice the time on TikTok compared to what they would on Instagram.

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TikTok’s effect on other social media platforms

Not Just Facebook is affected by the immense success of TikTok. Last year, data.ai published a report which shows that TikTok users now spend more time watching short videos than the users on YouTube. It’s little wonder that other social media giants are starting to offer short videos to their users.

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However, while this seems like a healthy competition if the investigation into TikTok leads to sanctions, others that offer similar videos will also come under the government scrutiny.

What’s really going under the hood of TikTok

Although there have been certain leaked documents on how the social media feed works, nobody has been able to provide the source of their success. It isn’t easy to completely understand what the company is doing to boost young user engagement.

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The story gets interesting when you discover that they’ve got an article that talks about how the algo recommends videos to users to keep them engaged on the platform. While the whole thing leaves us pretty much in the dark about the intricate inner workings of the algorithm, this investigation will hopefully help shine some light on the issue.

TikTok’s response on the Issue

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TikTok logo by Unsplash

TikTok spokesperson Ben Rathe in an interview made a statement, “We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the wellbeing of our community, and appreciate that states attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users. We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

While this somewhat translates to TikTok suggesting that they don’t have anything to hide, it remains to be seen when the results from the investigation will be revealed to the public.

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TikTok’s history with legislation

Unsurprisingly, TikTok (formerly musical.ly) isn’t a stranger to lawsuits and sanctions. In 2019, the social media company was made to pay $5.7 million in settlement to the FTC over alleged violation of user privacy rights of teenagers and younger children below the age of 13.

According to the FTC complaint issued to TikTok (then Musical.ly), the company took illegally obtained images, voice, and geolocation of young users, some below 13 years of age.

What’s real and what to expect

Regulators are looking into social media giants more than ever, ensuring online safety for every child. To that effect, Meta and other social media giants are getting under intense pressure, even though none is taking the heat as TikTok is doing right now.

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The leaders of this investigation are the AGs from California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont, the same group leading the investigation into Instagram’s impact on teens.

However, it is essential to state that at the moment, there have been no sanctions for TikTok yet; the ongoing investigation is still in its infant stage, and there will be more uncovered as things develop.

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