I mulled about writing this post for a while, because ultimately it comes down to putting my own neck on the line and voicing something that I know will be unpopular with many of you who are already on Tik Tok. But the elephant in the room, the platform’s dark side, has become too glaring and unleashed my desire to voice my concerns for the younger generation.
TikTok is a platform important for many. For children – who are glued to it and amused by it. For grown-ups, who are growing their audience and monetising their business. For the brands – that both expand its audience outreach and monetise themselves. There is fun, there is learning and there are opportunities to make money from. I am aware of that and certainly have no objections or problems with this bright side of the popular platform, if you are 18+. But in the last month alone I have seen its overwhelmingly dark and unpleasant side of it and heard multiple stories of bad language, bullying, dumbing down of the audience, stalking, racism, peer pressure…and even mass suicide promotion.
I know of children well below the required age of 13 – some as young as 8 or 9, who are able to register on it. Concerningly, in quite a few instances the parents don’t even get a notification on their phones or laptops, so underage kids get to lead a double life that their parents are genuinely unaware of. Companies that specialise in online safety and speak to schools, parents and students about it, are well aware of individuals who are always one or two steps ahead of the parents, giving children tips on how to bend the rules and overcome parental controls installed on their laptops or phones. Knowledge is power, but in this instance its more concerning, than helpful!
Only recently schools in Moscow alerted the parents about the mass suicide action gaining momentum. Have I read about it in the media? No, I haven’t, but I did see a few mentions on Twitter, asked friends and got confirmation that indeed they did receive this warning on the day from some of their children’s schools. However increasingly on media and social media platforms, including the ClubHouse, I hear glowing reviews and highlights of the importance of presence on TikTok – if you are a brand or an individual working in such industries as beauty or fashion. Interestingly enough, it’s not just the children who are peer-pressured to join it. I have friends and colleagues who told me that they are pressed to do so for work or in order to grow their audience outreach. If grown-ups feels the pressure, at least they are mature enough to deal with it. Imagine for a second how impressionable young children feel, especially when their friends are on that platform and they aren’t – often because their parents oppose it, me being one of them in the interest of transparency of opinion and intentions.
In fact one of my own children – recently and unknown to me – was on Tik Tok and had a pretty awful experience. I only learnt about it from another mum, who thought she saw my child on the platform. Alarmingly for me, my own child did that fully knowing my view on the subject and having heard about my own bullying experiences on another social media platform. I didn’t just say ‘no’ to joing, I actually took time and made effort to clearly articulate why I was opposed to my children joining TikTok. My child dipped the toe, saw and heard bad behaviour, including inappropriate swearing. But never-the-less in this instance my child was lucky – I have friends whose children experiences on TikTok were much worse and in some instances ended up being reported not only to the platform… but the police as well.
Quite recently I saw an editorial in a well-known international glossy title praising Tik Tok for its educational videos. I took it upon myself to articulate my concerns about that platform to an editor. The editor was respectful and open to the exchange of opinions, but didn’t share my point of view. While I appreciate that indeed there are positives – otherwise the platform wouldn’t be THAT popular with children, adults and businesses alike, I think it is important to have a full picture and spotlighting the negatives that many journalists, bloggers and influencers simply shy away from. The dark side of technology has a significant, scarring impact not only on children’s health, mental state and confidence, but much worse than that, it can and does jeapardise their personal safety in some instances – grooming happens on Tik Tok too. And if we stay silent, we become quietly complicit, as if saying that all this bad staff is ok as a trade-off for so many individuals and businesses, who reap the positive benefits from their active presence on that particular platform. The reason why I chose NOT to be on TikTok, even if it puts my own work and visual standing in the beauty industry at a disadvantage, was because I had exactly those reseravations – about my safety & personal data – something that a friend’s husband, who works in the special police force (dealing among other things with pedophilia,) warned me about long before Tik Tok was even created. If I don’t trust those platforms with my data and safety, why would I trust them when it comes to my own children or young adults under 18 – no matter how smart or accomplished they might be. I also want to acknowledge the fact that the content that children and young adults are exposed to via social media and platforms is becoming alarmingly questionable and often inappropriate – I simply don’t understand why governments don’t do more in order to help parents keep their children if not completely safe, than at least safer than they are now?
And if you consider me to be too old for you to listen to, how about the opinion of a 16-year-old Tik Tok star Sissy Sheridan, who was recently profiled by AirMail and has 5.3 million followers on the platform? While she is building a successful career thanks to this platform, with the view to becoming an actress later, she ….doesn’t like the platform.
I am not here to scream or to judge other people’s choices – I simply want to use my voice to express my opinion on the not such a bright and glossy side and toxic experience with the TikTok. I am equally curious to hear about yours.