TikTok is a slot machine, a psychological manipulator, an animal trainer, and we are too naive

Last summer, a TikTok Kid dance class opened in my neighborhood – a neighborhood in the suburban district that is just starting to move up. Many people are used to calling it a village, the sidewalk is like a street, but the road is still a concrete road and the number of houses is not enough.

A TikTok Kid dance class, for kids ages 6-12, in such a neighborhood?”, I think. It sprung up before franchise cafes, English centers, pubs, clubs… For me, it’s an undeniable proof of TikTok Boom, the explosion of a short video sharing social networking platform. this.

If you don’t know, TikTok has reached 3.3 billion downloads by 2022. That means that when we ask any 8 people we meet in the street, on average there will be more than 3 people installing the TikTok app in phone.

A nuclear family of 3 has at least one device that can watch TikTok. And when a dance class advertises it, they don’t have to explain what TikTok dancing is, like having to explain Flashmob, Dancesport or Zumba before.

TikTok dancing is simply dancing like you see people dancing on TikTok.

Research shows that children who participate in dance classes can practice coordination skills, balance, and spatial awareness. Learning to dance has also been shown to help children improve their language development, memory skills, communication, problem-solving skills, and emotional regulation.

Children who learn to dance often develop self-esteem, confidence, and a spirit of cooperation with their peers. There is no doubt that dancing benefits children’s development.

But TikTok? There is growing evidence that social media has a negative impact on the health of children and adolescents. Children using TikTok can experience sleep disruptions, eating disorders, impaired concentration, increased anxiety, depression, and even death from dangerous or uncontrolled challenges on the platform. .

So what should we say about the phrase “dance TikTok“, a good thing for children comes with a potentially harmful thing?

For a dance class for 6-12 year olds, that’s clearly a bad advertisement. Unless it’s the advertisers and the consumers themselves, here are the naive parents. They don’t really know what TikTok can do to their children’s brains and health.

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Needless to say, just because you sign your child up for a TikTok dance class doesn’t mean you’re starting to set up a TikTok account for your child and let him or her use your phone and social media freely.

But it’s one of the easiest ways to pique children’s curiosity, to ask questions.”So what is TikTok?”, “Can I use TikTok?”, “How do I watch or post videos on TikTok?”.

Many parents are quite comfortable introducing TikTok to their children by creating an account for their children, or giving their own phones to children to view the same TikTok account without knowing: In fact, this social network bans people use under the age of 13.

Ofcom, a British media regulator, says that more than 60% of children aged 8-11 and 33% of children aged 5-7 in the country own a TikTok account. In particular, 16% of 3-4 year olds in the UK have accessed TikTok videos indirectly through their parents. Parents may have used TikTok to calm them down or get their children’s attention to free their hands to do other things.

Ofcom’s survey did not investigate the consequences that the first TikTok experience had on children (such an experiment on children would not be approved by any scientific ethics committee).

But from the reports of adult individuals, we see that TikTok has a very strong appeal right from the first use.

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John Koetsier, a mobile ecosystem analyst and journalist with Forbes, said that he first downloaded TikTok to study how the app works:

I downloaded the app to familiarize myself with it, by learning and starting to watch videos that are only 15 seconds long by Tiktok. An hour later, I turned pale, shook my head, and wondered where my afternoon had gone. In a sense, I was hooked from the first time I watched TikTok.”

Koetsier brought his experience to the question of Dr. Julia Albright, a sociologist who studies digital and media at the University of Southern California. And she says the TikTok app has been designed to suck your attention like a slot machine.

Both have fun sounds, short viewing intervals, strobe light effects, and create dopamine rushes in the brain.

If you didn’t know, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released by the brain to reward you. It creates a pleasant, euphoric feeling every time you do something that you enjoy.

So in this case, a small amount of dopamine goes into your brain every time you win money on a slot machine or watch an interesting video on TikTok. But what is the problem? You won’t win a slot machine over and over again, nor will you always find a TikTok video interesting.

It’s not that TikTok suggested the wrong video to you, the platform’s algorithm did it on purpose. It alternates between interesting videos and boring videos to wait for your dopamine levels to drop, making you feel hungover, creating a feeling of defeat, having to get rid of the gauze.

Then, instead of shoving new coins and swiping the slot machine levers, you jam your time into TikTok by swiping up repeatedly. Soon you’ll see a video that makes you laugh, dopamine surges in your brain again, and the loop repeats.

“Psychological terminology calls it intermittent reinforcement”, said Dr. Albright. “It means sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And that’s how the platform is designed… they’re like a slot machine.”

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Melody Wilding, a professor of human behavior at Hunter University, USA, says this model of intermittent reinforcement also has applications in animal training:

If you want to train an animal to do something, the best way is not always to reward them. The more effective way is to reward the animal occasionally and at random intervals.”

So, that’s how TikTok users are being trained. You think you will just open TikTok and watch about 20 videos in 5 minutes. But TikTok never suggests you all 20 interesting videos.

Only a few of them will satisfy you and you fall into a psychological trap. You swipe up repeatedly to find and satisfy your dopamine loop. By the time you realize 5 minutes has stretched to 1 hour, it’s too late.

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Like 16% of parents in Ofcom’s survey above in the UK, Kim Quy, a mother of two 3-year-old twins (living in District 8, Ho Chi Minh City) said she was too naive when Let your kids watch TikTok from a very young age.

At first, I just showed it to my kids for fun. But up to now, my son always insists. Every morning, I only get up to go to school when I hear the music from the video. I also have to let my children go online before dinner and bedtime. I’ll be naughty, swear, make noise until I get a response“, Ms. Quy divided children on Zing.

I find this platform very clever. It records my and my baby’s habits to continuously suggest videos of the right interests. Even I was ‘caught’ when surfing TikTok, let alone the kids. The important thing is that I still try to spend time managing and ensuring that my children stay away from sensitive and vulgar clips. However, I am still in a helpless position, not knowing what to do to make my child less ‘addicted’.

Dr Troy Smith, a psychologist at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, said he also spoke to two parents of teenage children:

One person emphasized that his son had symptoms of anxiety, refused to eat, even tried to lie to find a way to open a social network when his parents restricted him. I would love to know if these addiction-like behaviors are common among TikTok users, and if so, to what extent.” .

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To embark on the investigation, Dr. Smith conducted a survey of 173 college students who are using this social networking platform.

The set of questions included questions such as:Do you have obsessive thoughts about TikTok? Do you feel the urge to use TikTok more and more? Are you surfing TikTok to forget your personal problems? Have you tried to reduce the frequency of using TikTok but failed? Do you become restless or annoyed when not using TikTok? Is your time using TikTok so much that it negatively affects your studies or work?”.

The volunteers’ responses were scored by Dr. Smith on a previously developed social media addiction scale. Results published in the journal Addictive Behaviors show that up to 31.8% of TikTok users are at risk of social network addiction.

The most obvious signs of addiction are users becoming stressed, irritable, anxious, or exhibiting strong feelings of sadness when deprived of access to the application (withdrawal symptoms) and that they each attempt abstinence from social media without success (relapse)“, said Dr. Smith.

Not only behavioral surveys, A study published in the journal Neuro Image involving brain scans of volunteers in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine shows that: TikTok’s video recommendation algorithm can light up brain areas involved in dopamine regulation and addiction, especially especially the ventral tegmental area (VTA).

When volunteers watched a random video not recommended by TikTok’s algorithm, the VTA region that played a role in their reward processing was not activated. On the contrary, they become more active when volunteers watch videos recommended by TikTok’s “For you” personalization page.

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“For you” is a creation of TikTok that makes this social network completely different from previous social networks such as Facebook, Youtube or Instagram. If you notice, every time you open TikTok, it takes you to the “For You” page, not the “Following” page.

Other social networks prioritize your circle, their algorithms will show content related to the people you know and follow first. As for TikTok, it immediately plunges you into a stream of videos of strangers.

There are two types of videos that you may come across here: The first is a video that is in the positive feedback loop. They are very interesting and have been shown to a lot of people before you. TikTok knows they like them based on high views, comments and likes so have recommended them to you, a potential audience will also like them.

The second type is the test video, when you are selected as one of the first viewers. The characteristic of this type of videos is that they have very little interaction. Again, you think TikTok is buggy, but it’s actually a feature of them.

Not only does TikTok train you, it also exploits your decisions, turning you into an unpaid moderator. When you watch a test video, there are two possible scenarios.

In the first case, if you find the video interesting, TikTok knows you watch them all and interact with them, that video will be pushed to the positive feedback loop and continue to be broadcast to other TikTok users.

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Conversely, if you found the video boring and skipped, congratulations, you’ve hit the loser box. TikTok just did two things at the same time: They created an intermittent reinforcement mentality that made you crave dopamine and the feeling of swiping to remove the gauze. At the same time, they take your swipe-over reaction to stop recommending that boring video to the next user.

According to Louise Matsakis, Wired’s technology contributor, it is the intelligence and optimization of the “For You” algorithm that has turned the TikTok homepage into “valuable digital real estate. best of the world”.

At the moment, it has surpassed Facebook’s “New Feed”, Youtube’s “All”, Twitter’s “Home” and Instagram’s “Following”…

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It goes without saying that any Big Tech, with any of today’s free social media apps, is tapping into your attention. If you’re using something for free, you’re actually being turned into a product to be sold.

Social networks make money from free users in two ways. The first way is quite simple, they display ads. But the second way is what is worth discussing.

Everything you do on social media is scanned and analyzed to build a profile of you. The Big Tech creates an avatar of you in their world. They know what you like, your political views, your looks, your favorite brands…

What is then priced to sell to advertisers is this profile file, not the impressions. Advertisers are willing to pay for a higher customer base and quality of service.

The whole mechanism and business model in this so-called attention economy works so well that, every time you open a social network and see, it is already making money from you. And every time you close the app, that app’s revenue stream from you also stops.

Therefore, Big Tech always focuses all their algorithmic power to ensure one ultimate goal: “How do you pick up your phone, choose your app, and keep it open for as long as possible?”.

According to Bob Fallon, executive director of the US-based Marketing Agency Bluewater, TikTok is currently the best miner of attention-based advertising resources.

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“As advertisers, we are always trying to find an audience. TikTok now has no shortage of audiences. But there is one thing that makes me take my hat off to TikTok, that is treturn on ad spend (ROAS) of this platform“, said Fallon.

ROAS is the gold standard KPI for digital marketers. TikTok is dominating other social media platforms in this index. They are winning on all fronts. TikTok has the potential to deliver a very strong return on ad spend – both profit on ad time and return on user attention time“.

So how did they do it?

If you didn’t know, studies show the average amount of time a person can hold their attention is shrinking. In 2000, that number was 12 seconds in an era without smartphones.

Today, we can only focus our attention on an object for 8 seconds, less than a goldfish (9 seconds) without being distracted by emails, texts and phone notifications. .

TikTok knows these numbers, and they have created a platform with videos that are limited to less than 15 seconds in length. Fallon said: “TikTok has satisfied consumers by providing short videos that are perfect for the attention span we have narrowed. “.

With these videos, the platform always has time to show the funniest or most interesting part of a piece of content, before their users lose attention and swipe to other videos. But it’s TikTok’s content shredding that continues to drive our attention spans down.

Dr. Julie Albright at the University of Southern California said: “Our brains are changing based on interaction with these digital technologies, our time is being compressed.”

If you don’t believe it, try watching a movie made around the 2000s. Then you’ll see in most cases, it only takes a few minutes for you to intend to rewind it. You will ask yourself: When will this good part come?

But what is even more concerning is that children born in the TikTok era, their attention is being disrupted by this platform in the first place.

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The survey found that 4-15 year olds spend an average of 80 minutes watching TikTok every day, which means that TikTok got them scrolling through about 320 videos in that time period. Gone are the days when kids were glued to YouTube all day. Now, Once infatuated with TikTok videos that are only 15 seconds long, each YouTube clip with children has turned into a documentary.

Julie Jargon, Home and Technology columnistThe Wall Street Journal once did a survey of parents with children who love TikTok, she wrote:

Many parents tell me that their kids can’t sit through a series of movies anymore, because to them, the movies feel uncomfortably slow. Others have observed their children struggle to concentrate on homework. As for reading a book, forget it.”

Jargon brought this up to Michael Manos, clinical director of the Center for Attention and Learning, Children’s Hospital Cleveland. When children do things that require long-term attention, like reading or solving math problems, they need to use directed attention, says Manos.

Directed attention is the ability to inhibit distraction and maintain attention and rotate it appropriately. It requires high-level skills like planning and prioritizing“, Manos said.

These functions are responsible for the prefrontal cortex. But this area of ​​the child is not fully developed until the age of 25. So if children and adolescents are constantly exposed to TikTok, an app trains them to pay attention in short intervals of time. , the baby’s brain will get used to these short-form stimuli.

As a result, their brains will find it difficult to adapt to non-digital activities outside of the usual world, where things don’t happen so quickly.“, Manos said.

Dr. Julie Albright agrees with this. She told about one of her students who planned to become a musician. But he stated that if he couldn’t do it in 3 months, he would give up on his dream.

Young people now don’t seem to have the patience to do anything anymore. If you ask what they plan to do in 5 years, Gen Z students will look at you like you’re crazy. “5 year plan? They can’t even conceptualize what a 5 year plan is“, said Dr. Albright.

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Doubting the prevalence of similar cases, the US National Institutes of Health is funding a study of 12,000 teenagers who have grown up in the digital age.

With this study, the authors hope to demonstrate the impact of each social networking application on the brain development of modern adolescents, including what happened after the TikTok era.

Chances are, this short video social network has “change or damage” to many children’s ability to process real-world information, said Bonnie Nagel, one of the scientists involved in the project, who is currently a professor of neuroscience and behavior at the College of Science and Technology. Oregon Health predicted.

As media becomes faster and more stimulating, it creates a collision with what happens in real life. Children’s brains will have difficulty processing information slower and less stimulating.

And think about it, they can rewind YouTube videos but how can they rewind the real life they’re living outside of the screen?

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Going back to the TikTok dance class, do you wonder why TikTok dancing became a brand?

In fact, you can dance any dance on TikTok, Flashmob, Shuffle or Zumba just needs its movements to be chopped or compressed to fit the attention span and video length on the platform. And then it immediately became a TikTok dance.

This leads us back in history 5 years ago, TikTok before TikTok was now a lip sync app called The app, which allows users to record videos of themselves dancing and singing to music, eventually amassed more than 200 million users around the world in 2017, before being acquired by ByteDance.

ByteDance then developed into two versions of the app Douyin, released domestically in China, and TikTok released on a global scale. Both applications continue to conquer users by exploiting the human need to dance and express themselves.

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Throughout the history of civilization, dance has been considered a form of body language, helping to express ideas and emotions. Primitive societies as far back as 10,000 years ago used group dances as a means of communicating in rituals with the gods, praying for a good harvest, and expressing reverence or gratitude.

Dance is also used as a language of performance in storytelling sessions, helping to pass on knowledge from generation to generation. Individual dances are used to represent the health and majesty of men. For women, it is also a way to attract a partner of the opposite sex.

In modern society, dance continues to convey all those human body languages, whether it’s a dance session, a dance performance on stage, a ballroom dance, when you dance in a bar Or when you’re dancing alone in the house, in front of the camera of a phone.

What’s special with TikTok dancing is that it’s both personal and collective. This social network exploits the human need and instinct to imitate. While you’re dancing alone in front of the camera, you’re actually participating in a collective ritual where millions of other people are imitating and covering the same dance as you.

Underneath the mantle of entertainment turned out to be a need for “spiritual” connection, which awakened a hidden memory deep within human culture, a need for synchronized movement to bring about a strong sense of solidarity. .

Every time you join a dance challenge on TikTok, you will find yourself in a group, a community. You will also no longer be afraid to express yourself in the crowd. Tiktok dances therefore have a very strong appeal, even though they are odd, or sometimes sensitive to objectionable.

Take the example of WAP, a dance challenge on TikTok that has attracted more than 1.2 billion views in 2020. It is clear that the body language of this dance is not suitable for all situations and audiences, especially are children.

The WAP challenge includes a variety of twists, kicks and splits, and even simulates sensitive action. And once they know what WAP is, many adults feel blushing at times.

Despite this, there are still innocent kids participating in the WAP challenge on TikTok. They cover the dance without understanding what it means. TikTok is, in fact, brimming with sexualized dance moves. And because the social network has a large number of young users, it accidentally becomes a magnet for perverts who hunt children.

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In 2019, a team of Mirror reporters carried out an investigation into the predation of pedophiles on TikTok. They discovered that this social network is turning children into attacks by perverts.

We see a video in which a teenage girl is dancing while others stare and urge her to “Take off your clothes”they write. “In another video of an innocent 15-year-old girl, it attracted a series of crude comments from men talking about sexual behavior.”

The survey included interviews with parents at various primary and secondary schools in the UK. Many people have reported their children falling victim to pedophiles through challenges like #tradefortrade (a sign of trading in pornography) and #takeitoff (a challenge to take off their clothes).

These predators can save children’s TikTok videos to their devices for exchange or upload to pornographic sites. They also often use public comments or direct messages to entice school-aged children.

In response to this situation, TikTok said it has banned private messages from being sent to user accounts under the age of 16. However, social networks have no way to check the real age of users, in fact many children under the age of 13 still fake their age to create accounts.

In another investigation by The Telegraph, they interviewed content moderators for TikTok in the UK. These employees said about 10% of the private messages they examined contained inappropriate content from adults to children.

Sometimes they saw a child’s account with up to 10 different messages from 10 strangers, all of which contained harassment. However, according to TikTok’s policy, these employees can only suspend the accounts of pedophiles for 7 days.

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TikTok is really dangerous, there are a lot of predators looking for kids on it. We’ve seen pedophiles get their accounts locked for a week, but then they’re back talking to the kids as usual.“, a former moderator working for TikTok shared.

He later quit his job and warned relatives not to let their children use the app:

I don’t feel safe letting someone stay there and trust the reporting functions if they feel threatened, because TikTok’s penalties don’t work. If possible, parents should ban their children from using TikTok. In case they can’t, be really careful and check your child’s account daily“.

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To be fair, not everything on TikTok is potentially risky or dangerous for the younger generation. Like other social networks, TikTok is becoming a networking platform, allowing young people to find each other, express themselves, stimulate creativity, or simply have healthy moments of entertainment. .

The app is also improving itself to be safer for children and teenagers. For example, in 2020, TikTok launched two features “Family safety mode” (Family Pairing) and Family Pairing (Family Pairing) that allows parents to connect to their child’s account, from there. manage usage time, display content and limit direct messages of strangers from reaching their children.

In 2021, TikTok also applies a series of new regulations aimed at protecting children and young people. For example, the app will stop pushing “Push notifications” after 21 hours for kids accounts aged 13-15 and after 22 hours for teens 16-17 years old.

TikTok accounts under the age of 16 will have the direct message feature cut off, while users aged 16-17 will have to actively enable this feature if they want.

Alternatively, you can go to the “Privacy and app settings” section of TikTok by tapping the 3 dots on the corner of your profile screen. This will allow you to set up a “Safety” feature, where you can customize who can post comments, who can use the “Duet” feature, who can watch videos or send messages to your child. There are 3 options which are “Everyone”, “Friends” and “Off”.

What’s more important to know, however, is this: No matter what you try to put up a barrier between your kids and TikTok, their exploratory instincts will still help them find a way through. .

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In March 2021, TikTok said it used scanning algorithms to discover 7.3 million accounts belonging to children under the age of 13. This is the clearest proof that children still have a way to use this social network.

By falsifying age profiles, kids under 17 can also unlock all the features that TikTok is restricting. And one more thing, you really don’t need a login account to watch TikTok.

The way TikTok’s “For You” algorithm works means you really don’t have to follow or befriend anyone on the platform to see the latest, trending videos.

So any child can access the world of TikTok by downloading the app or typing the website name in the browser.

Dr Kathryn Smerling, a New York-based psychotherapist, says banning children from TikTok entirely is not necessarily a practical or effective option. So what is the better solution?

Talk to your child about the advantages and disadvantages of social media“You need to teach your children soft skills when using the internet, including how to behave and protect themselves in cyberspace, where they can meet and interact not only with friends but also with friends,” says Dr. Smerling. countless other strangers.

Pay attention if the child has any psychological abnormalities such as: staying up too late, avoiding family members, suddenly self-deprecating, quiet and do not want to use social networks. These could be signs that your child has been abused or bullied online.

Digital footprint is also a concept you need to explain to your child. Kids who are old enough will understand that by setting up an account with TikTok or any other social network, the information, personal identity, every photo, video, post, chat they upload will be saved. and exist somewhere forever.

This information is all personal property, but they are often exploited by social networks and even sold to third parties. Other users themselves can also extract personal information from you.

If children, often teenagers, understand this, they will know how to use social media in moderation and more cautiously.

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Ultimately, the best way to limit the amount of time kids spend in front of screens is to swap them out for real-world time. Dr Smerling said: “You need to make sure your child has a full range of activities including sports and physical activity. Children also need to be exposed to nature to counteract the effects of social media.”

For example: playing sports after school, a weekend camping trip, hiking with the family, a dance class (but not TikTok dancing)… According to experts, these activities can even be reverse the impact of social media on children’s psyche and brain.

Make sure your kids only spend a limited amount of time on those platforms, so social media isn’t all they say and do. Your kids need a balanced life, they need time to study, time to spend with family and time to do other things too.“, said Dr. Smerling.

Refer Forbes, Wsj, OLDyberpurify , DRAWerywellhealth, Parents, Telegraph, Mirror, Huffingtonpost , Addictive Behaviors , NeuroImage, Frontiersin, Wired

Truong Duong

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