TikTok ‘pushes harmful content into teen feeds’, study finds

Some young TikTok users are seeing potentially harmful content that could encourage eating disorders, self-harm and suicide, an online safety group has claimed.

Research on the TikTok algorithm by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCHR) found that some accounts repeatedly received content about eating disorders and other harmful topics within minutes of joining the TikTok algorithm. platform.

The group created two accounts in the US, UK, Australia and Canada posing as 13-year-olds. One account in each country was given a female name and the other was given a similar name but with a reference to weight loss included in the username.

The study created two accounts in the US, UK, Australia and Canada posing as 13 year olds (PA)

The content streamed to the two accounts during their first 30 minutes on TikTok was then compared.

CCHR said it used this username method because previous research has shown that some users with body dysmorphia issues will often express it through their social media handles.

In its reporting methodology, the CCDH also said that the accounts used in the study expressed a preference for videos on body image, mental health and eating disorders by pausing on relevant videos and by pressing the “Like” button.

Additionally, the report does not distinguish between content with a positive intent and that with a clearer negative intent – ​​with the CCHR arguing that it was not possible in many cases to definitively determine the intent of a video and that even those with a positive intent could still be distressing for some.

The report from the online safety group claims that the speed at which TikTok recommends content to new users is detrimental.

During its test, the CCHR said that one of its accounts received content referring to suicide within three minutes of joining TikTok and that content about eating disorders was posted to an account in the eight minutes.

He said, on average, his accounts receive mental health and body image videos every 39 seconds.

And the research indicated that the most vulnerable accounts – which included body image references in the username – received three times more harmful content and 12 times more self-harming and suicidal content.

The CCHR said the study found an eating disorder community on TikTok that uses both coded and open hashtags to share material on the site, with more than 13 billion views of their videos.

The video-sharing platform includes a For You page, which uses an algorithm to recommend content to users as they interact with the app and collects more information about a user’s interests and preferences.

Online security bill

Imran Ahmed, Managing Director of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (PA)

Imran Ahmed, chief executive of CCDH, accused TikTok of “poisoning the minds” of young users.

“It encourages children to hate their own bodies and to suggest self-destructive and disorderly, life-threatening behaviors in extremes with food,” he said.

“Parents will be shocked to learn the truth and will be furious that lawmakers aren’t protecting young people from big tech billionaires, their irresponsible social media apps and increasingly aggressive algorithms.”

Following the research, the CCHR has released a new parents’ guide alongside the Molly Rose Foundation, which was set up by Ian Russell after his daughter Molly took her own life after viewing harmful content on social media.

The guide encourages parents to talk ‘openly’ with their children about social media and online safety and to seek help from support groups if they are worried about their child.

In response to the research, a TikTok spokesperson said, “This activity and the resulting experience do not reflect authentic behavior or viewing experiences of real people.

“We regularly consult with health experts, remove violations of our policies and provide access to support resources for anyone in need.

“We recognize that triggering content is unique to each individual and remain focused on creating a safe and comfortable space for everyone, including people who choose to share their recovery journeys or educate others about these important topics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *