The Truth About Tik Tok

Former+staff+member+Brenna+Wright+watches+Tik+Tok+on+her+phone+in+class.+Photo+by+Cate+Landry.+

Cate Landry

Former staff member Brenna Wright watches Tik Tok on her phone in class. Photo by Cate Landry.

Cate Landry, Staff Writer

After scrolling through the depths of Instagram and finding a relatively dry and boring explore page over Thanksgiving break, I decided to download TikTok as a way to avoid the awkward small talk that I was subjected to while my family was in town. Although I originally downloaded the app as a joke and thought I would delete it after a few days, I found myself sucked into the action of aimlessly scrolling through e-boy and “colorado-check” videos until I had wasted hours of my life and found myself returning to watch more viral videos each day. While TikTok provides an easy and amusing way to escape the stresses of daily life for many high schoolers, there are proving to be some potentially serious concerns emerging over this new obsession. 

Over the past few months, concerns have been raised about the censorship of TikTok videos and the app’s relation to China. In October, Senators Chuck Schumer (D) and Tom Cotton (R) requested that the US Department of Intelligence look into TikTok’s censorship of certain videos, the risk of counterintelligence in the Chinese Communist Party and foreign influence on US election. This inquiry is a response to the concerns that TikTok has been censoring videos of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and controlling content that US “TikTok-ers” can view. In a letter to the intelligence committee Schumer and Cotton wrote, “With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore.” However, TikTok responded with a blog post on their website that their data storage is all located in centers outside of China and “[they] have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period.” While this may be the case, there is no denying the fact that there have been cases of censorship regarding political issues documented on TikTok. A video, created by teen Feroza Aziz, exposed the conditions of the camps that millions of Uyghur Muslims that resemble concentration camps. Aziz’s account was suspended shortly afterward. TikTok responded by claiming that Aziz’s account was suspended due to a previous video about Bin-Laden, but declined to further elaborate on the content of that video. Additionally, as the New York Times claims, the frequent and notorious use of facial recognition in Xinjiang, China means it is quite possible that the Chinese government could be using the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, as a training platform for facial tracking. While it is unclear if the Xinjiang government is truly behind this popular platform, the concern from US government officials, journalists and citizens remains prominent.

 Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok are imposing threats to user privacy in a way that the generations before have not had to deal with and it is important that all social media users understand the risks that they are exposed to when using these relatively new apps and websites. This app could be changing our interaction with global entities while also influencing our local government. This seems like a high price to pay for 20 seconds of fame and entertainment. 

More recently TikTok has also been exposed for preventing videos created by disabled users from appearing on the “For You” page, preventing them from going viral. A leaked portion of the TikTok rule book shows that reviewers should be looking out for videos that could be “susceptible to cyberbullying based on their physical or mental condition.” It then stated examples of facial disfigurement, autism, down syndrome or disabled people with some facial problems such as a birthmark, slight quint and etc.” This has resulted in the censorship of videos by certain accounts and videos, especially from people with disabilities, which proves to be outright discriminatory towards these people. I believe that TikTok users understand that they are using a public social media platform when they are posting videos, and it is their choice, rather than the choice of the company, to choose to expose themselves to public opinion by posting videos 

As a somewhat frequent TikTok user, I understand the addictiveness and the hype around the new app. I really do. However, there are serious downsides that our generation must be aware of in order to protect ourselves and remain safe and secure on the internet.