Social media has brought plenty of benefits to our daily lives, keeping us in touch with our peers, current events and allowing one to encounter new knowledge they would not have known to seek out. However, the monkey’s paw has had its toll on the vast wealth of information brought about by the internet age.
The caveats to social media have been well known since its advent. Cyberbullying, being the most notable and controversial topic in the early days of the internet, now appears like a non-issue when compared to the myriad harassment and mean spirited activities that transpire on the modern internet. Many associate the term ‘cyberbullying’ with those who willingly put themselves in danger on the internet and become damaged because they lack self-control.
“How The Fuck Is Cyber Bullying Real … Just Walk Away From The Screen … Close Your Eyes Haha” Tyler the Creator advised in a popular tweet in 2012. But can we truly just “walk away from the screen”?
Since the Trump administration, calls to ban TikTok have resonated in Washington, mainly based on the app’s relationship with China. Over the past week we have seen the largest momentum towards restricting the app once again, who’s push was too capricious and eventually had seen legal resistance. Now, we again see a similar movement towards legislative action, with TikTok’s chief executive planned to appear before a congressional committee in March.
TikTok presents many concerns to user safety. Data privacy, mental health, cyberbullying and social media addiction are the primary issues brought against social media, the most personal to any individual being social media addiction and provoking mental health issues. Many of us are too familiar with the endless scroll, unable to pull ourselves away from the screen just to watch one more five second video, into perpetuity. TikTok’s video recommendation engine algorithm, like those of other algorithms, are designed to keep the user consuming content as long as possible. From here, many ethical questions arise. Should companies be allowed to record and predict human behavior to such an extent as the TikTok algorithm allows? For some, the algorithm is too much and manifests as social media addiction, a behavioral disorder becoming more recognized as a serious health issue. TikTok’s chief executive argues that the algorithm is harmless, stating, “it’s just math.” But we are all well aware of the damages that behavior adapting social media can have on individuals.
Furthermore, social media is able to contribute to mental health issues. The Wall Street Journal used specially designed bots with preprogrammed interests to scroll on TikTok, where one bot had interest set to depression and sadness eventually had been indulged by TikTok by depressive content. It is no mystery that TikTok is so successful at predicting one’s subconscious. Individuals with mental health issues will with no doubt find consolation in social media, and there are merits to this, like mental health support and advice videos.
The algorithm in many ways may exacerbate mental issues — individuals will be inundated in content that can aggravate their struggles and bring them into worse states by consuming content that reaffirms their thinking processes. This is why figures like Andrew Tate have seen so much success on the platform, where men with poor image issues have been given a consumable figure by the algorithm, leading young men to embrace hyper masculinity as the cure for their mental health issues.
And it is also worth mentioning data privacy concerns in social media, where these companies own vast swaths of user information and use it towards commercial purposes. Though this criticism often includes the most conspiracy, there is space for legitimate concern for how social media handles its user data.
Congress moving towards banning TikTok, I think, is something we should look forward to. Avoiding sounding like an out-of-touch boomer, we are overdependent on social media. Congress should follow through on finding ways to protect US citizens from the adverse effects of social media.