I first discovered TikTok when I watched my 14-year-old sister try and learn the dance routine to ‘Candy’ by Doja Cat. It was during the Christmas holidays and I thought she was insane. Flash forward three months, and my phone takes a perverse delight in informing me that TikTok is one of my most used apps. Today, I used it for 43 minutes. Yesterday, it was 2 hours and 34 minutes. The length of time fluctuates day-to-day, but it is inarguably, and perhaps somewhat embarrassingly, an app which I use day-to-day.
So it’s worrying that Steve Huffman, CEO and co-founder of Reddit, recently dubbed TikTok as “fundamentally parasitic”. I’ve always been vaguely aware that the app is considered untrustworthy. The US Army has banned soldiers from using the app after it was considered a security risk. Most recently, the Transportation Security Administration has banned employees from using the app as the United States continues to perceive it as a threat to national security. Huffman warns users that the app is “spyware”, contributing to the increasingly scary rhetoric surrounding TikTok.
TikTok is considered a security risk because it is owned by Chinese tech company, ByteDance. There is a law in China which dictates that both organisations and individuals must “support and cooperate in national intelligence work”. This means that at any time, information can be seized by the government.
The dangers of TikTok aren’t limited to security threats. People attempt stunts which require professional training, deliberately endangering themselves. Paedophiles strike up conversation with children, and easily access their video content, as the age restriction is only 13 years old. It is a platform which makes online bullying incredibly easy. It is one which encourages vulnerability and little privacy, as people film day-in-the-life videos which reveal where they live and what they do.
But for all that it may be “fundamentally parasitic”, it’s difficult to consider TikTok dangerous when it is virtually ignored by the British media, with almost all of the news articles pertaining to the app concerning American teenagers and United States security. While it might seem naïve, it’s difficult to see how TikTok could affect me, a twenty-something year old university student in England, in a negative way.
Scrolling through my likes page, I can see hours of enjoyment. There are hundreds of short videos which I’ve liked so that I can watch them again, show them to friends, or attempt to recreate them. There are dance routines to Get Up (Ciara feat Chamillionaire) and Say So (Doja Cat). There are Points Of Views about the fictional game Nerve, about being welcomed to wonderland and about meeting your soulmate. There are tutorials for makeup and outfits and meals. There are catchy songs such as “somebody come get her, she’s dancing like a stripper” and “I don’t really wanna do the work today, I don’t really wanna do the work today”. Videos last 60 seconds or less, yet those posted are endlessly creative, interesting and, to put it simply, fun.
TikTok might be considered dangerous, but I don’t believe that it’s any more dangerous than any other form of social media. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook: they can all pose a threat to personal or national security if used improperly. I use TikTok because I enjoy the format, and short, stupid videos appeal to my sense of humour. I think that, for me, the positives of the app outweigh the negatives. TikTok truly puts the “fun” in “fundamentally parasitic”.
Categories: Digital Culture