TikTok: The good, the bad and the ugly

Popular video sharing app TikTok has its fair share of critics, but is it really all bad?

Leonie Smith, aka The Cyber Safety Lady – one of the country’s most experienced eSafety educators – has become used to the sea of shocked expressions she sees in rooms and halls across the country during her presentations.

“I begin with sharing screenshots of the type of adult content their kids are subjected to on apps such as TikTok every day and you can see they’re reeling,” Leonie says.

“There’s an idea among parents that TikTok is only about singing and dancing; there’s little to no awareness – either of the depths of adult content on such apps, or the effects viewing such content can have on young minds.”

How TikTok can be a problem

Few have missed the rise of TikTok, the short-form video sharing app that allows users to create and share 15-second videos.

What astounds most is how quickly the social media darling has grown to more than 1 billion active users per month since the Chinese-owned service went global in 2018.

According to a University of Queensland study, teenagers (users of the site skew younger) are being exposed to videos that portray cannabis use as entertaining and fun, rather than risky.

Lead author of the study Brienna Rutherford analysed 881 publicly available videos and found more than half featured a positive, pro-cannabis sentiment.

“We found there was a real promotion of the lifestyle and acceptance of use and while most of the messaging around cannabis use was positive, there wasn’t a lot about the downsides of the drug,” Brienna says.

Why TikTok’s not all bad

Leonie is the first to admit TikTok isn’t without its benefits, explaining it’s quickly become the marketing tool of choice for everyone from politicians and celebrities to entrepreneurs.

“Wherever the idols are, that’s where our younger generations want to be, and of course, this is a huge business opportunity for anyone who wants to make money,” Leonie says.

Mental health experts have begun highlighting a host of potential health benefits, from being encouraged to connect more with others through engaging in common challenges, exercising more (particularly through dance), exploring new skills and synchronising behaviour – a way of moving in time with others that studies show works beautifully in boosting our self-esteem.

Not into exercising yourself? Even laughing along to popular genres such as #gymfails has been shown to bolster your immune system and elevate feelings of wellbeing.

Why you need boundaries on TikTok

Brienna she’s not in the business of calling for bans.

“We’re just trying to protect and provide balance for those who are getting a biased picture,” she explains.

“My recommendation would be to do what we currently do with Covid-19 videos and provide a link to further information, so viewers are informed of the bigger picture.”

If your kids are over 13 (the minimum legal age for social media) and on TikTok, Leonie recommends first and foremost, fostering an open and honest relationship with them.

“Set boundaries by installing filters on your devices that restrict adult content and by not allowing them to take their devices to their bedrooms,” Leonie says.

Written by Dilvin Yasa.