Written by Emily Fernando
Illustration by Zoe Shields
Tik Tok. The app that has stolen the nation’s heart. It had once started as a video editing app where children were able to edit quirky videos and share them amongst their peers. However, it became an overnight media success, for which users were able to share any type of content such as showcasing dances like the Renegade, to promoting and supporting influential movements such as Black Lives Matter. Popular content creators involve the likes of Charli Damelio and Lil Huddy. Yet, this app has produced content which has gained significant backlash amongst the public, from oversexualising children, to endangering the lives of children via viral challenges. Is this app appropriate for children? Or is it negatively affecting their psychological wellbeing?
Trends and challenges: the new craze
There have been many dangerous viral challenges promoted by Tik Tok that users followed. The infamous ‘Tide Pod’ challenge which started in 2018, encouraged users to ingest soap (which poses significant health risks). The concussion challenge, which is still in circulation, where a group of willing participants stand in a circle facing upwards. An object is thrown into the air above their heads, for which all the participants stay put, risking a concussion when the object comes back down. All these trends prove vital as to why this may not be appropriate for children, for there is a promoted mindset of them being okay because the other person they watched doing it is okay. Therefore, there is an increased inclination to commit risky behaviour. This reflects gained insight from Bandura’s famous Bobo doll study where children were exposed to violent behaviour which they then reproduced. For example, Chloe Marie Phillips (aged 15 years old) died recently from an overdose after doing the viral Benadryl challenge on Tik Tok. The trend she had followed included the idea that teens take a big amount of an allergy drug to hallucinate. Thus, Tik Tok needs to re-evaluate their guidelines to make their app more kid appropriate, as children dying from viewing trends online is a relatively new phenomenon with no relevant restrictions to protect children’s safety.
Now from the top, make it drop. That’s a wet ass p***y. Sound familiar? This song has become a viral dance trend among Tik Tok creators. WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion talks about being a freak and liking handcuffs and leashes. The dance created by Brian Esperon which premiered on Tik Tok is very provocative, with users reproducing this dance with ass shaking and pretending to choke themselves. Should children as young as 12 years old be seeing this? Should they be exposed to this kind of behaviour? Again, this adds to the idea of whether children should be shown oversexualised behaviour. This is mirrored in the backlash of a Netflix film called Cuties. This film promoted children being oversexualised. Maybe, this problem isn’t just restricted to Tik Tok, but rather a predominant issue within society.
Protection of the vulnerable: a safe haven
However, vulnerable populations such as the LGBTQ+ community have used Tik Tok as a safe haven, giving them the ability to be true to themselves. It has become a platform that members of the community could use to promote campaigns, i.e. for top down surgery or for housing. Many may have used this app to come out and show their appreciation of the community. Popular LGBTQ+ creators include Avery Cyrus and Marthe Woertman. Young children who may be a part of this community may find solace and comfort amongst other content creators.
Furthermore, there is a promotion of diversity amongst Tik Tok creators. Tik Tok creator Braeden O’Brien has created a series of Tik Toks for which he creates different diverse Disney princesses i.e. a princess as an amputee, or a princess with anxiety. In creation of these, he has shone a positive light for individuals with these ailments that individuals may have. With this representation, a message of “it’s okay to be who you are” is shown, for which young individuals can internalise and have a positive wellbeing. Other content creators include Brooklyne Webb who became viral by shining a light by being body positive. Content like this may deem Tik Tok to be appropriate and beneficial for children.
It all comes down to the main idea of whether children should be exposed to these viral challenges of choking themselves or ingesting soap. There has been a large outcry for Tik Tok to have stricter guidelines and have a larger role in moderating the produced content. For if this happens, the negative effects of Tik Tok would be substantially less. The positives of Tik Tok may be overshadowed by the negatives, but it’s a start. If there was increased focus on promoting psychological wellbeing rather than what “sells” or what brings the most viewers, it would be more appropriate for children.