Thoughts on TikTok

I originally published this as the end of the precedent articles, only to not be too much spotted by chinese censorship. In fact each time I publish articles related to this country, I get an extra bunch of viewers and probably not from the best eyes 👀

Is TikTok the perfect psychological weapon ? 

I admit I am way more concerned by the effect of the BiteDance app on people that the taste of cheap Chinese made Starbucks vanilla syrup. If you even dowloaded the app or even use it, you have probably tasted how addictive it can be. Launching TikTok in the evening at let’s say 7pm will see you scrolling through 10 pm easily, not even figuring out you lost that much time. I bet that that you can not even judge how much time you spent on your last tiktok scrolling session, you will most likely underestimate it by A LOT. 

I started to worry about media consumption on smartphones the day Tim Cook shared about he was worried about the way we use our devices to infinitely scroll through content, basically making us dumb. 

Simple design, beast of an algorithm, infinity scrolling

The algorithm is far more advanced than the Instagram one, it will have two major goals, to make you stay as long as possible on the app, and make sure to make you come back to the app as much as possible. 
The fact that it’s only videos and not photos makes it far more addictive, exciting your brain with a bunch of dopamine, making you feel good without any down time. For app like youtube, you have to click on the next videos, and most of them are more than 5 minutes. TikTok is more like people who love to abuse the remote control to jump from one channel to another on TV. 

Creators who will ask their watchers to subscribe will be put aside, and the one who’s watchers will be tempted to subscribe and watch the rest of their previous content will be put on the top of the pile. The most liked, commented, and even saved contents are the best rated ones. 

When you authorise TikTok, you allow them to listen into your private conversations on other apps, monitor your habits and contents consumption, access to you camera and microphone even. 

To put into perspective, I was working a long time ago, before all the european union laws on cookies, for a famous food delivery company. Once our clients would have installed the app, or use the web browser version of the website, we could see in live the following :
– livechats before they even pressed the sent button 
– websites tabs they were looking at on their web navigator 
– their location and data 
– which restaurants they were looking at before or live 

Well, as for today, TikTok has access to even more data on your phone, and if you were thinking that Meta was using your messenger data to spam you with ads for your next travel destination, it’s probably not them but ByteDance instead. 

Infinity scrolling is the ability once you launched the app to just by a little simple gesture, randomly jump into new videos. It’s so easy, and it makes you feel you are in control while you are NOT since the next content is chose by the algorithm for you and not randomly in the content of the app. 

Whereas for static content, like websites or newspapers, infinity scrolling is not interesting since it will take you forever to come back to the beginning, it doesn’t weight on the swiping between videos. If you take a moment to think about it, why would you want to come back in the past on an infinite scrolling on TikTok, since you will likely find a much better videos soon or late, right ? 

Psychological impact and what it does to our brains

Each video is like a little shot of pleasure for your brain, it’s called dopamine and it’s the same hormones that makes you feel good when you do sports, or even masturbate for example. It’s the rewarding hormones, making you calm and happy. Dopamine feels good, it has been the ultimate goal of most apps in the past few years, to make you addict to a content. TikTok is far from being the first app to exploit this brain capacity, Tinder is also playing hard on this, making you so keen to buy likes for an insane amount of money. 

The problem with TikTok, is that it makes our brain used to only watch very short content, hence reducing our capacity to concentrate more than a few seconds on a particular subject. 
A few years ago, I did some research regarding the impact of social media on productivity at work. There was a study showing that checking your facebook notifications during work would make you loose about 23 minutes to be able to focus back to the task you were previously doing… and this was static content, not like TikTok today. 

A recent article of the LA times was disclosing the following about the psychological impact of the app on people : 

Research shows that more frequent use of TikTok and other social media can lead to negative effects. The cyberbullying, social exclusion and drama that can occur on these networks have been associated with higher rates of mental health issues in adolescents.

The best Chinese soft power weapon 

Isn’t it just amazing that Chinas has recently blocked it’s youngster to play more than one hour per day to online games, while flooding the international market with TikTok ? Without falling into conspiracy theory, it would look like they figured out the risks of addictive contents on their own population but would be glad to put the rest of the world at risk, after all these are democracies, with their auto determination rights. I wonder sometimes if it’s only a business or a weapon for world domination conceived to make us weaker. 

We have to take into account that the Chinese government is censoring the app content, making it impossible to talk about a lot of burning subject regarding China. With the precedents we know regarding the way facebook influenced the last few presidential campaigns, we can only worry how TikTok will be used in the future to influence the elections. 

There is also big justified concerns regarding national security, India for example has banned TikTok, USA almost did under Trump but then was authorised again by Biden… Any officials can be easily spied on if one people around them is using the app of their phone. Our governments are so slow to react that even Macron is using TikTok, I sincerely hope he is using it on a burner securized phone but I doubt about it.

Illustration picture credits to unsplash.com/@helloimnik

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