Why Tik Tok Is So Harmful

If I were to ask people what the least useful and largest time waster of the social medias was, many, including myself, would say Tik Tok. In my opinion, it rivals only Twitter in its capacity to do harm. But before you say “ok boomer” you should know I am a 23-year-old ex-Google software engineer who grew up on the internet. These are just the conclusions I’ve arrived at after reflecting on my own experience as well as that of my peers.

The first reason why Tik Tok is harmful is because of how stimulating the platform is. Apart from pornography, online gambling, and other more egregious forms of internet consumption, I know no other platform with as much general adoption that is as captivating. Anyone who has ever been sent a Tik Tok knows this. There is a significant amount of resistance needed to escape its vortex, in which the intention of watching one video turns to five videos, five to fifty, and fifty to five hundred. The sheer variety of content, its fast pace, its personalized recommendation algorithm, and the fact that hours of creativity and effort are compressed to under 10 seconds all create an incredibly stimulating experience. 

But the fact that the app so entertaining is no cause for concern if examined in isolation. After all, don’t we want our entertainment, whether books, movies, or podcasts, to be as engrossing as possible? Yes, but also no. Eventually we have to put down our phones and live our life, just as an alcoholic has to contend inevitably with a hangover. And just as a hangover is more unpleasant than any normal morning, the highly stimulating content on Tik Tok can make the rest of life dull by comparison.

There is growing evidence, both anecdotal and experimental, to show this effect. This conclusion can be supported by science but more importantly by common sense. Is it not the case that work is more difficult after a long vacation? Or that the movies of the past are frustratingly slow-moving after watching the action packed flicks of today? Or that an apple tastes less sweet after eating a sugary donut? Adaptation to stimuli is a pattern that rears its head in every aspect of life, so why would it not appear with digital technology? These aren’t arguments against vacations, movies, or donuts, but they only demonstrate the tradeoff one makes when pursuing any stimulating activity.

The second reason Tik Tok is a uniquely harmful platform is because I believe most adults who use the app would consider it to be a waste of time by their own standards. I mention “by their own standards” to distinguish sharply between what I believe to be a waste of time versus what people consider themselves to be a waste of time. In the first case, I can easily be dismissed as self-righteous; whereas in the second, I can’t. I also do not include teenagers in this description since, having been one for longer than I’ve been an adult, I can vouch for our exceptional ability to make poor decisions. Nevertheless, it's no wonder people think time spent on Tik Tok is time thrown away. The short, bite-sized content of the platform means there is a limited opportunity to educate oneself, expand horizons, or come away with a transformational experience, as is possible, but not guaranteed, from platforms like YouTube or even from watching a good movie.

As an example, consider an episode of Game of Thrones and an hour on Tik Tok. Both are entertainment. Both share the same medium of being pixels on a screen. But, there is a stark difference between what people feel they come away with after watching both. One would optimistically be described as rich, transformative, and inspiring of self-reflection, whereas the other would be described as mind-numbingly amusing. 

These are two of the most important reasons. Others include the rampant amount of sexualized content, misinformation, and general stupidity on the platform. What makes these issues even more concerning is the outsized effect they have on children and teenagers, who dominate the platform and many of whom are hopelessly addicted. 

The platform is many things, but it is not boring or dull. I have used it myself and still have friends who routinely send me videos, and I can confidently say that most people will find it entertaining, especially those my age and younger. But I hope I have highlighted the costs this entertainment comes with. It's nothing to scoff at or ignore. It’s something to seriously think about.