Dec 28, 2021 5 min read

TikTok, teenage girls, eating-disorders and the curious rise in Tics

tiktok teen harm shutterstock photo
Source: Shutterstock

Wiser! Essay: a billion people watch short videos on TikTok every month, but what are they about? New evidence links TikTok to harmful content on eating disorders and a disturbing rise in Tics amongst teen girls.

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TikTok teen addiction

How TikTok inundates teens with eating-disorder videos

BackStory:  TikTok is flooding teen users with videos of rapid-weight-loss competitions and ways to purge food that health professionals say contribute to a wave of eating-disorder cases spreading across the country.

This is the conclusion of a Wall Street Journal investigation involving the creation of a dozen automated accounts on TikTok. The team of journalists, registered as 13-year-olds, found that the popular video-sharing app’s algorithm served them tens of thousands of weight-loss videos within a few weeks of joining the platform.

Some included tips about taking in less than 300 calories a day, several recommended consuming only water some days, another suggested taking laxatives after overeating. Other videos showed emaciated girls with protruding bones or the so-called “corpse bride diet,” and an invitation to a private “Christmas-themed competition” to lose as much weight as possible before the holiday.

After the WSJ published the article, TikTok said it would adjust its recommendation algorithm to avoid showing users too much of the same content, part of a broad re-evaluation of social-media platforms and the potential harm they pose to younger users. The company said it is testing ways to avoid pushing too much content from a certain topic to individual users, such as extreme dieting, sadness or breakups, to protect their mental well-being.

TalkingPoint:  The issue of harmful content targetted at teenage girls, not just on TikTok, continues to plague social media.

The issue is that the algorithms are behaving the way that they are meant to behave, which is to look at patterns of content that get your interest and attention. Then feed you more of the same content to groom your behaviour and eventually build addictive behaviour in the user. The trouble is that this is a blunt instrument and the AI does not differentiate between healthy and unhealthy content (and frankly, how can it?)

It is too easy to blame the technology when the real culprit is the business model behind it. All the time that the platform's economic model is directly linked to how much time you spend on the platform, the algorithms are going to keep finding ways to get you hooked and coming back for more.

China has already worked out that Government intervention is needed because BigTech isn't going to regulate itself (remember, the current laws on Internet age were written in the last century after the tech industry successfully lobbied for the online age of consent to be raised from 13 to 16.) In China's BigTech Crackdown, TikTok's Chinese equivalent Douyin has already been forced to introduce measures that restrict the amount of time spent online and forces interruptions every 5 mins to break up addictive patterns of behaviour.

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