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Bill To Ban TikTok Is Unnecessary, Policymakers Should Focus On Warning Users ​

The government should not have the authority to prohibit the use of social media. There are limitations that the government should not exceed and one of them is people's innate individuality and free will, which must be respected.


A bill that will be presented in the United States Senate seeks to ban TikTok nationwide. The bill's major advocate, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, accuses the app of invading children's privacy and mental health.  

Hawley was a key supporter of the app's ban on government devices in December. Hawley shared his views in a twitter tweet, “TikTok is a Trojan Horse for the Chinese Communist Party. It's a major security risk to the United States and until it is forced to sever ties with China completely, it has no place on government devices.”  


There is a strategic and multifaceted competition between the US and China, if we go back a few years to revisit the economic relations between the two countries. The conflicts that have developed have made the American government aware of possible political and diplomatic risks from their competitor and therefore this ban may not be a mere coincidence.


While the Chinese government's intention toward American civilian privacy may not be innocent, banning the app in the entire country is an authoritarian measure. Deciding to use the app should be a private decision for each person. In the case of children's use of TikTok their families should be the one monitoring their internet use.  


This discussion over TikTok has been explored in American society for some time. In early March 2022, an investigation into the possible harmful physical and mental effects of using Tik Tok was announced by eight states. Federal lawmakers and regulators have criticized TikTok, citing how computer-driven content and algorithms could endanger the physical and mental health of young users.


Another investigation was initiated in Texas to examine possible violations of children's privacy and the app's facilitation of human trafficking. 

Child safety advocates argued that TikTok's computer algorithms that select video content for users encourage and promote eating disorders, self-harm and suicide practices to young viewers. Furthermore, California Attorney General Rob Bonta ​said in a press release that there was an effort to concretize whether TikTok was violating protective laws by promoting the platform to children.   


The context of the app explains a lot 


When observing the transition from the past generation to the next, one notices a change in lifestyle and not only that, a change in behavior towards relationships. This is because each generation is shaped from certain molds of social, cultural and political norms of their time.  


Generation Z was born into a world dominated by technology, unlike their predecessors who were born before the advent and/or the popularity of the Internet. Specifically, this generation has experienced a pandemic that lasted almost two years and it was precisely during this time of social isolation that TikTok became a trend among young people.   


With 15 to a maximum of 3 minute videos, the concept of Tiktok is the production of quick content. What was already immediate within the content world has become even more so.  

Since its inception, the Chinese social network has gained global popularity through so-called trends, which are briefly a mass movement in the digital world.  


According to data published by Semrush, the platform saw 2 billion active visits globally in December. There was a 1,157.76% increase in its global user base between January 2018 and July 2020 while the US had a growth rate of 787.86% over the same period. 


The social platform sees such high traffic because the search tool allows the user to be in constant touch with what they like best. The For You Page (FYP) tab suggests content based on the preferences of those who use it. TikTok mechanics will send an account several videos about a topic depending on the amount of interactions the users have such as likes, comments and shares.  


While the recommendation process on FYP is also based on other information, the content itself chosen by the user indicates the preferences of what he or she wants to consume online.  


Not everything is flowers, but freedom must exist  


Despite a structure that allows some parental control over content, the widespread use of TikTok seems to accelerate a world where everything was already too immediate. The popular trends, challenges and viral dances have become the center of attention and it is not uncommon to walk down the street and bump into young people doing rehearsed choreographies or appealing videos to get the likes so long awaited.   


Before the explosion in popularity of the app, socializing among people was clearly already all set in a digital world. However, one major change seems to have happened with TikTok: the ease of viralizing everything.  


Popular content categories where videos tend to go viral are entertainment, dancing and pranks. Data from Semrush reveals that there are creators on TikTok, often in these categories with around 100 million followers that make up to $5 million a year.  


Additionally, the average user session duration is 10.85 minutes. The high levels of engagement on the social network has changed the way other apps are structured, the marketing strategies of large companies and even the publishing market.  

In other words, we are talking about an application that, on a global level, has changed not only the ways of interaction within the online world, but also outside of it.



What do the studies say? 


Among the number of issues about the influence of the app, one of them is that people who are not professionals in their field choose to engage in discussions regarding mental health. This movement fosters an atmosphere for the spread of fake news, as information is shared without fact-checking.  


A study published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry about TikTok and ADHD found that of the 100 most popular videos discussing the disorder on the app, 52% were misleading.  


Studies demonstrate that the widespread use of TikTok is not beneficial. However, whether or not to use the app should be up to the individuals and not policymakers. 


The government's task should be to warn families and users of the possible risks, by sharing studies and research. Additionally, they should require the application to improve their privacy policies.


Picture: Antonbe / Pixabay

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