By Elena Gabrys, CONTACT:

TikTok is an app that most of us consider to be essential to have on our phones and in our daily routines. Not only is it a source of quick entertainment, but also a cure for boredom and a source of information to people who do not inquire further to reading or watching the news. However, despite this, we often hear the groans of adults that apps such as TikTok are “turning our brain into mush” or are completely terrible for us. But is that completely true? And if it is, do the negatives truly outweigh the positives?

TikTok was launched in 2016 by the Chinese company in ByteDance. It quickly became extremely popular in 2018 as it was the most downloaded app in the United States and now it has over 1.7 billion users. The app also gained a lot of popularity in the pandemic, peaking at 313.5 million downloads in the first quarter of 2020. It is now available in more than 150 different markets and has offices in cities like Beijing and Los Angeles.

The app’s popularity is based on a few factors. TikTok’s focus on user-generated content greatly contributes to its popularity, not only does it encourage users to watch, like and share videos but also to create their own, further boosting the overall popularity of the app. The for-you-page also works to provide variety and short form entertainment, interesting a wide audience and keeping people in the habit of endlessly scrolling to find endless videos that peak their interests.

While it began as an app where people posted lip-sync videos it soon developed to the diverse content of dance, cooking and comedy sketches and now increasingly is becoming a source of infotainment where influencers who have a steady audience begin offering quick snippets of tips or educational information while still having self-promotion.

However, despite all of these benefits of educational content and a place for new careers to develop, what are the harmful side-effects that have been taught to us by adults? Similarly to having an addiction to gambling, there is an ongoing production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which gives feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation, when using TikTok. The brain begins to get addicted to this feeling and then desires this dopamine drip. Often this is described as a dopamine addiction which makes people long to turn to the social media platform as an endless mine of this feeling. Juxtaposing these feeling of joy, TikTok is also said to be dangerous to young users and can amplify depressive and suicidal content, due to its invasive data collection, risking a further development in users’ existing mental health issues.

In addition, TikTok obviously adds to screentime, which on the surface seems to be a small issue that can be dealt with. However, when we venture into the zone of 12-hour screen times, it is no longer an innocent pass-time but an addiction that can very negatively impact mental health, productivity and can health, for example, eyesight or headaches.

Despite all of this, perhaps the most worrisome effect is the reduced attention span. Users of the app have the immense access to information filled videos that last an average of 30 seconds, but this has lead the brain to loose the ability to focus on longer, more time-consuming things and reduces a person’s ability to concentrate and their attention span. People who binge watch this short-form content find it increasingly harder to “participate in activities that don’t offer instant gratification,” as Julie Jargon wrote in the Wall Street Journal, this is an effect that she called, “TikTok brain.”

Summarising this, TikTok, like any other form of social media, can have many positive and many negative effects. It offers quick entertainment and offers funny videos that comply with someone’s interests, however, it can also rapidly decrease a person’s mental health, attention span or can even have negative health effects. All of these can follow people on for the rest of their lives, making it hard to return to a sense of normality without the endless option of scrolling.