Delete TikTok. Now.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Wake up, and go on TikTok. Brush teeth, and go on TikTok. Eat breakfast, and go on TikTok. Get distracted on TikTok and realize class started five minutes ago. Log on to class, turn off camera, and go on TikTok. This cycle is the routine of most teenagers, and I was no exception, averaging upwards of eight hours of daily screen time on the app. After two years of using the app, I deleted the app on February 6. Four months later, I say with confidence that it is one of the best decisions I have made.
I downloaded TikTok in late 2018 as a joke after it had rebranded from the popular app musical.ly. The app was still widely considered “cringeworthy,” but I found its content entertaining and wholesome. In early-to-mid 2019, hundreds of thousands downloaded TikTok after seeing advertising, and during the summer of 2019, dubbed the “golden age” of TikTok, they stopped seeing TikTok as a joke and began putting effort into making entertaining videos. There was no need to look your best, like on Instagram, or prove to the world that you had the best day ever, like on Snapchat. TikTok had hilarious trends, musical puns, and fun summer activity ideas.
The “golden age” came to an end as September of 2019 came around. Several creators began gaining enormous followings and earning money from their fame. Since then, the main goal has shifted away from creating enjoyable content and toward becoming famous on the app. However, many feel that this motive leads to less original, authentic, and creative content since people are driven in hopes to go viral. Moreover, TikTok is largely looks-based, where conventionally attractive creators are favored and likely to go viral, even if others’ content is funnier or “better.” Additionally, such competition for “hype” amongst creators inevitably breeds drama, fighting, and “canceling.”
This shift into a beauty pageant-like environment created a TikTok culture filled with body shaming and hypersexualization, mainly of young girls. Those who do not look like the unrealistic beauty standard are constantly degraded, and even conventionally attractive girls are shamed for minor flaws. Anything less than perfection is unsatisfactory. As TikTok has gained popularity, eating disorders in teenage girls have surged, as well as revivals of online eating disorder forums, many of which were created on TikTok itself. Sixty percent of the app’s U.S. users are between the ages of 16-24. At 1.5 billion users, the odds are high that a percentage of them is struggling with an eating disorder or food anxiety. Melissa Harrison, a professional counselor and co-founder of the Center for Hope & Health, a treatment center for eating disorders, said her clients, some of whom are as young as 12 years old, mentioned they “learned ways to restrict their eating on TikTok” last year. I’ve struggled with on and off anorexia and bulimia since I was in middle school, and my all-time low occurred simultaneously with my all-time high TikTok screen time. I doubt it was a coincidence; the site encourages vain behavior, and the obsession with aesthetics and looks overtakes any new user’s mind. I didn’t even know certain flaws about myself existed, but the app taught me new aspects of myself to hate. Unfortunately, I relied on the very app that caused these problems to cope with them, trapping myself in a loop.
Additionally, those who have the looks to become popular on the app often go to extreme measures to attain recognition, leading to its sexualization of children. TikTok is ultimately run by teenagers and children, where teenagers associate being older with deserving more respect. Older teenagers (17+), many of whom are sexually active, are the supreme rulers of the app, with children as young as elementary schoolers looking up to them. They explicitly discuss sex, drugs, and other mature activities while creating sexual videos to rack up views and quench their thirst for the “hype.” Young children who see these posts and are exposed to all these topics much too early want nothing but to be like these older kids: to be “cool,” “mature,” and respected, so they follow suit. I have personally seen girls as young as 10 or 11 years old posting explicit sexual videos for their 15 minutes of fame, discussing past sexual encounters, and bragging about their drug use. Considering the amount of time we spend on TikTok, older kids essentially become responsible for nurturing a safe social environment for the younger ones. However, teenagers are clearly unfit to properly supervise or care for children. Therefore, it is the responsibility of parents to protect their kids from the effects of the app by not allowing them to create accounts until they are old enough to.
Additionally, TikTok used to be an escape from political discussions in traditional media or other internet platforms, but that aspect is no longer the case. It has become an app with constant fighting about political and social issues. While there can be great discussions about such issues, there is even more negativity and toxicity, such as sexism, racism, and other harmful ideas. Of course, political discourse is inevitable on any social platform; the difference, however, is that the discourse in places like Instagram and Twitter involves mostly adults. TikTok is made up of kids and teenagers, many of whom are uneducated about the matters they are discussing. This characteristic leads to dangerous misinformation and misuse of political terminology, sometimes even resulting in unintentional propaganda. The fighting doesn’t stop at these so-called “politics.” Users fight over “alt” (alternative) TikTok versus “straight” (traditional) TikTok, misogynists versus misandrists, and “2000-2005 babies” versus “2006- babies.” TikTok is clearly no longer the safe haven of creativity and humor it once was.
To an outsider, TikTok may appear problematic because of its young user base; the real issue, however, lies in the For You page algorithm that is unique to the app. ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, continues to develop sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) that uses the data gathered from the app. The For You page is an infinite feed of videos from accounts the viewer most likely does not follow. Not only does this system drastically increase the chances of a user being exposed to harmful or triggering content, but it is also the reason TikTok is more addictive than any other social media platform. AI expertly selects videos to recommend based on the person’s data. Since these videos are usually about 15 seconds long, the user can’t help but swipe to the next one for hours on end. Turning off or deleting the app becomes impossible, and the cycle continues.
I have not used TikTok in over four months, and in these past 18 weeks, my life has changed. I’ve started going to the gym more, dedicating more time to productive hobbies, making new friends, and improving my grades. I’ve also spent much more time taking care of my mental health; I’ve been eating disorder-free for months, gaining back my confidence and repairing my body image. Though I had been addicted to the app, the results were worth the “withdrawal” I experienced the first few weeks. I miss the occasional cute puppy video, but nothing is more important than physical and mental health, so I highly encourage you to put your addiction to that toxic cesspool aside and delete TikTok.