Should we be worrying about what the kids are doing on Tiktok?

Archie Battersbee was not the first to die as a result of a social-media-based challenge, so it’s not surprising that lots of people have been asking that question this week.

I know without asking that my daughter would tell me no, it doesn’t matter what platform you get information by, it’s what information you’re getting. It’s a good point. The challenge that killed Archie was a playground game for the crazier kids long before the internet was born.

People closer to my age are more likely to be worrying about who else sees what you put on social media, or what our grand-children are not doing, because they’re on their phones all day.

Me, I was a captive audience in a hospital waiting room where the only news I could find was a copy of the Telegraph (Yeah really – I don’t carry a Smartphone around with me. You’ll see why, below…) so I read their article about Tiktok.

Telegraph article header - phone on tiktok in pocket
Daily Telegraph: how Tiktok can influence…

It was quite funny. They discussed several times, in different paragraphs, the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is not the biggest threat. You know what, Telegraph people? We’ve known since Snowdon that both the US and the UK, and most likely Russia as well, give themselves permission to look at everything, and are not above dropping in ‘influence campaigns’ so the thought that the Chinese might be doing it too really was not at the top of my worry list.

No doubt you saw the story last week about a US women whose social media message content was handed to the police on production of a warrant. No doubt you thought, well I’m not worried about that, because I don’t put my real secrets in social media messages. You did think that, didn’t you? Because you don’t, do you? Please tell me you’ve got that far…?

The Telegraph also discussed our governments’ worries. I think it’s quite hilarious that our government in the UK is worrying that we might be influenced by other governments, or to be more accurate, they worry that other governments might interfere with their own attempts to influence us. That is not at the top of my worry list, either.

Still, having allayed my non-existent worries about the Chinese, The Telegraph tells us not to worry about exposing our networks on Tiktok, because Tiktok is not a networking site (you should worry about that on Facebook by the way – you can betray your friends simply by being their friends, same way you can betray someone you don’t even know by standing near them with your phone on.) The Telegraph also digs up some studies to demonstrate that kids probably don’t have an addiction to Tiktok.

The actual problem, says the Telegraph, is what they’re learning – well, not quite. (See my daughter’s comment above).  The problem is that Tiktok, like many interactive platforms, surveys what you watch, and feeds you more of the same, so that if your kids do get obsessed with something unhealthy – a cult, say, or pornography, or the gender-miseries, or those potentially lethal challenges, they tend to get sucked down the rabbit hole by the very nature of the platform, until that kind of material is the only thing they get to see, so they watch it all the time.

Just like Facebook and Twitter and all the rest, Tiktok have demonstrated that they are crap at safeguarding. The example the Telegraph article gives is Tiktok sweeping for the word “suicide”, and as a result switching off Crisis phoneline ads, whilst kids playing suicide games or worse were using #unalive to dodge the censor.

You know what those platforms need? They need actual human moderators, rather than auto-searches. You know what those multi-billion dollar spinning platform CEOs will tell you? They can’t afford it. That’s how much they care about your kids.

And never forget, we’re caught up in it too — every single one of us — how many rows, how many conspiracy theories, have broken up friendship and political groups? You don’t have to believe the conspiracy theories to lose by them. Never mind whether the conspiracies are actually happening — the theories sure are. You only have to pick up all those keywords, and decide to block, drop, reject, swear about any former friend or comrade who says that thing about masks, about Brexit, about gender, about this or that politician or public figure, and we’re losing …

 So do, please, look at what’s happening to youngsters using online platforms but please don’t believe everything you read – talk to the kids, look at what they’re doing, and for how long, and apply some real, human safeguarding. Good luck!


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