For the last year or so, Americans from coast-to-coast have been concerned about what TikTok could be doing with their information, or the kind of unfiltered messages pedophiles could be sending to their kids. While many chalked the first up to just average tech risks, the second one many feels is easily prevented by monitoring the TikTok of your child.
Sadly, that’s not enough.
According to a report filed by corporate accountability group Ekō and published via VICE News, it only takes the Chinese platform 10 minutes to destroy your child. In their research, they set up nine brand new TikTok accounts and opted to identify as 13-year-olds. Mimicking the actions of “incels” or those who are involuntary celebant, commonly seen as an online group of “young men who formed a bond around their lack of sexual success with women.”
Minutes later, the researchers found themselves ten videos of “incel” related content, and now the “for you” section of the app was entirely overrun with content most popular with the group. In those clips was a scene with Jake Gyllenhaal that was incredibly popular with the incel community, as are all his movies. The clip features the actor with a rifle barrel in his mouth proclaiming “Shoot me. Shoot me in the fucking face,” with the tag line “Get shot or see her with someone else?”
Accompanying the tagline were numerous comments suggesting that suicide was a good idea and that they would always choose that decision. Many described the feeling of being “dead inside” and they painted a vivid picture of their loneliness. One commenter specifically established a four-hour time frame until he would be making a suicide attempt. The report does not explain if he was serious, or if it was simply trolling. The Gyllenhaal clip was removed, but grabbed 440k likes during that time, over 2.1 million views, 7.200 comments, and over 11,000 shares.
Maen Hammad, Ekō campaigner and co-author of the research spoke to VICE News about their findings. “Ten minutes and a few clicks on TikTok is all that is needed to fall into the rabbit hole of some of the darkest and most harmful content online. The algorithm forces you into a spiral of depression, hopelessness, and self-harm, and it’s terribly difficult to get out of that spiral once the algorithm thinks it knows what you want to see. It’s extremely alarming to see how easy it is for children to fall into this spiral.”
While his report is groundbreaking for just how quickly the infectious material shows up, it’s not something that hasn’t been around since the dawn of the internet. The problem is how accessible this kind of depraved content has become, how diverse the topics of destruction have become, and just how rapidly it is being consumed.
Earlier in March the University of Massachusetts had to send students a binge drinking warning after 28 ambulances were required over a singular weekend for alcohol poisoning at the hands of the “blackout rage gallon” or BORG challenge. In this activity, students are mixing high-proof alcohol, electrolytes, flavoring, and other ingredients to get incredibly intoxicated incredibly quickly.
At the beginning of 2023, a 12-year-old girl in Argentina died taking the TikTok “choking challenge” or “blackout challenge.” In this challenge, she was encouraged by her classmates. Eventually, she ended up “recording herself and managing to hold her breath with an object tied to her neck until she fainted.” She was found dead in her room by relatives, and the death was ruled “mechanical asphyxiation by hanging.”
While the concerns about China spying on the US have led federal and multiple state agencies to ban the app on government electronics, many parents are more than happy to let it babysit their kids. As this recent study showcases, the app isn’t good for kids in any form. While we already know it rots away brain cells, the app’s push to end users’ lives is too much, and kids are already so impressionable. It’s time we get them away from TikTok and get them back into tic-tac-toe.