There is no doubt TikTok has taken the world by storm. With the unique combination of short-video content and Instagram’s influencer culture, TikTok has emerged as one of the most dominant social media platforms with 60% of users being Gen-Z (born between 1997-2012).
Being members of Gen-Z ourselves, whether you are infatuated by funny cat videos, food content or even motivational self-help guides, we can certainly attest that scrolling TikTok has become a staple of our morning and evening rituals. As two Psychology MSc students who are passionate about safeguarding mental wellbeing, we understand the importance of distinguishing between reliable scientific information and misleading claims.
Why is TikTok our go-to platform for information?
TikTok, for some users, is in many ways a preferred search engine for certain types of information, compared to Google. We also find ourselves using TikTok for our first port of call when trying to search for the best places to eat and product reviews before we make any decisions. The app also offers us a chance to be creative with current trends. Additionally, TikTok has provided users with an inclusive online mental health community. By encouraging open conversations, this can be utilized to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
However, the credibility of content creators is something to be wary of (you can find articles written on this topic for Inspire the Mind here and here). For example, in an analysis of ADHD videos on TikTok researchers have reported 52% of content being misleading with false information regarding ADHD such as symptomatology, with the majority of videos being uploaded by non-healthcare professionals. With a click of a button, this false information is shared to others in our networks within seconds.
With the rise of influencers on this platform, TikTok is flooded with edited and filtered content. It’s hard not to feel slightly envious when we see the picture-perfect moments showcased online. Even we find ourselves momentarily trapped in this comparison cycle. These negative effects of social media have been previously discussed here. Therefore, it seems adolescents are vulnerable to the effects of social media use. These findings underscore the importance of fostering open dialogue with loved ones to develop self-confidence and a healthy perspective on curated perfection.
One of the distinguishing features of social media platforms is the level of anonymity they afford their users. TikTok has gained popularity for its ability to connect users with content creators they may not have direct offline connections with. Subsequently, this creates an environment where individuals may feel less accountable for their behaviour and unfortunately, has led to the normalization of harassment disguised online. For instance, in a 2017 Public Health England report, among 5,335 11-15 year olds, 17.9% reported experiencing bullying online; girls were also twice as likely as boys to report being bullied online. Similarly, high levels of cyber bullying were also prevalent among young adults (18–25 years) who reported experiencing cyberbullying both in their lifetime and within the past month. Given the hidden nature of online harassment, it can be challenging for friends, parents, or families to identify signs of distress or harm experienced by their loved ones.
Navigating TikTok: Essential Tips for Gen-Z, Families, and Friends
It is important that young people are taught to be aware of misleading information online that can cause more harm than good. Importantly, users should be critical when viewing information on social media platforms. Instead, users should opt to conduct further research from reliable sources (e.g., websites endorsed by renowned university research and government websites) or seek professional opinions.
Secondly, it is important to have open conversations with your friends and family about how words said online are just as impactful in the real word. By actively promoting these discussions and thinking about the consequences before you post or comment, we can contribute to a healthier and more considerate online environment.
The Office for Communications has found that young people between ages 12-15 as well as 16-17 were unlikely to inform somebody of negative situations they experienced online. Therefore, friends and families should create a safe and non-judgmental space for their loved ones to voice out any worries or fears they have about the app. This would ensure that if an individual is experiencing negative comments or bullying, they are able to confide in a trusted individual and prevent this from resulting in mental health difficulties.
So, to TikTok or not to TikTok?
To conclude, while TikTok has allowed individuals to find communities where they feel validated and heard by others who may share similar challenges. It is important to remain mindful of its potential pitfalls. By cultivating a healthy and critical approach to social media use and encouraging responsible engagements, we can empower individuals to better navigate the realms of the digital world.