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Guest Viewpoints

The Dangers of TikTok: A Modern Trojan Horse?

January 28, 2023
By Anastasia Kaliabakos

In April, 2020, a few of my friends finally convinced me to download TikTok. It is characteristic of me to be woefully behind on social trends – an example being that I did not download Instagram until my junior year of high school. Since I was already so disconnected from my friends due to the COVID-induced lockdowns at the time, I relented and downloaded the app – and what a mistake that was! I instantly found myself being bombarded with videos of all kinds – recipes, dance trends, comedy shorts, and many other types of content. One addicting thing about TikTok is the strategically-catered variety of content it offers. The app’s algorithm learns what you like scarily quickly and subsequently recommends similar videos in order to keep you interested. I, along with many other Americans who downloaded the app during the pandemic, essentially became TikTok addicts.

Eventually, however, the whirlwind that was TikTok became too much for me, and I deleted the app over a year ago. At first, it was difficult to not have the option to distract myself from the day’s activities by going on TikTok since I had grown so accustomed to it. However, at this point in my life, I have now become so alienated from the world of TikTok that I forget it exists unless someone mentions it to me. So that begs the question – why am I writing this article?

In mid-December, 2022, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a bipartisan bill that would effectively ban TikTok from operating in the United States. The bill cites serious concerns with TikTok’s ties to China. Even though TikTok itself operates within the United States, its parent company, ByteDance, is required by Chinese law to make data from TikTok available to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Therefore, many American lawmakers are fearful that the private information of American citizens is being abused by the CCP due to TikTok’s ties to ByteDance. Additionally, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced and helped pass a ban on TikTok on government devices specifically. This bill was unanimously passed in the Senate, but still needs to go through the House of Representatives. However, the fact that it was unanimously passed in the Senate is telling – why would lawmakers so vehemently want to ban TikTok on government devices but not provide the same type of security to regular citizens?

To be clear, banning TikTok is not a new endeavor. Some may remember that, back in 2020, the Trump administration also sought to ban TikTok in the United States. President Trump actually signed an executive order that banned TikTok from the app store that mentioned the concerns about TikTok’s apparent lack of privacy and the CCP connection. The executive order was immediately challenged for a multitude of reasons, one being that people were willing to give ByteDance and the CCP the benefit of the doubt – in other words, to ignore the fact that the data belonging to regular American citizens were not private at all. One may actually find explicit evidence of this in TikTok’s own terms of service, which reads in part, “we automatically collect certain information from you when you use the Platform, including internet or other network activity information such as your IP address, geolocation-related data, unique device identifiers, browsing and search history (including content you have viewed in the Platform), and Cookies.”

Despite this concerning admission of questionable privacy ethics, the Biden administration reversed the ban on TikTok in June, 2021, with President Biden saying that he would resolve the problem in a “different way.” However, he has not taken any action on the issue during the course of his presidency, which is why Congress is taking the problem into their own hands.

Besides the concerns about privacy, TikTok is dangerous for mental health reasons. According to a report by CBS News, A study was published in mid-December of 2022 that exposed how TikTok intentionally recommends content that supports self-harm and eating disorders to young viewers. In the study, researchers set up fake TikTok accounts where they posed as 13-year-old users interested in content about body image and mental health. Within 2.6 minutes after joining the app, TikTok’s algorithm recommended them suicidal content, and eating disorder content was recommended within just 8 minutes. Additionally, over the course of this study, researchers found 56 TikTok hashtags hosting eating disorder videos that collectively had over 13.2 billion views. The CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Imran Ahmed, said, “TikTok is able to recognize user vulnerability and seeks to exploit it. It’s part of what makes TikTok’s algorithms so insidious; the app is constantly testing the psychology of our children and adapting to keep them online.”

Why should we as a Greek-American community be concerned about TikTok? Well, it is a threat to us because there are a variety of Greek influencers on the platform who may be interesting or entertaining and who you may want to follow and watch on the app. However, there are other alternatives for enjoying content about Greek culture apart from TikTok, such as YouTube and Instagram. Additionally, now and for the next few months, many Greek-Americans will be planning trips to visit Greece and may be tempted to use TikTok to find nice spots to travel or stay while in the motherland. However, once again, there are alternatives to TikTok that may end up leading to a more fun and safer experience.

Ultimately, while it is undeniable that TikTok encourages degeneracy and is bad for the mental health of our citizens, that is not reason enough to ban an app. However, it is paramount for the Federal government to get involved in the issue due to the national security threat that the app poses to us as citizens and to the United States as a country. Therefore, if you do not have a New Year’s resolution yet, here is a challenge: if you have TikTok, delete it as soon as possible, and if you do not have it, never fall to its temptations.

Anastasia ‘Stacey’ Kaliabakos is a current senior and Dana Scholar at the College of the Holy Cross and a graduate of The Brearley School. She is double majoring in classics and philosophy. On campus, Stacey is the Chief Opinions Editor of The Spire, Editor-in-Chief of the Parnassus Classical Journal. Anastasia has been featured in NEO Magazine, The Villager, and The National Herald and has contributed to WestView News since 2018.

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