TikTok Hysteria Returns: AGs Launch Mental Health Impact Inquiry

from the moral-panic dept

While the repeated freak outs over TikTok tend to be bipartisan, they’re often motivated by different things. The Trumpist right generally doesn’t like TikTok because Chinese people made a product that’s better and more successful than U.S. tech platforms (the latter point being obvious if you spend thirty seconds comparing the Facebook/Instagram and TikTok video platforms).

This is dressed up under all manner of other pretenses (see: Trump trying to offload the whole company to his friends at Oracle and Walmart under the pretense he was just suddenly and uncharacteristically, super concerned about consumer privacy).

Then of course there’s another segment of TikTok hysteria common on the right and left, which, as we’ve seen throughout history when new tech is involved, requires tearing your hair out about a parade of perceived horribles being caused by something you don’t actually understand.

The latest example of that segment of TikTok hyperventilation can be seen in a new multi-state AG investigation into weather TikTok is causing mental and physical health issues in teens:

Today, Attorney General Maura Healey launched a nationwide investigation into whether TikTok is designing, operating, and promoting its social media platform to children, teens, and young adults in a manner that causes or exacerbates physical and mental health harms. Attorneys general nationwide are examining whether the company violated state consumer protection laws and put the public at risk.

Data clearly proving that social media is actively the cause of teenage depression is hard to come by. Especially in a country where mass shooting, terrible or nonexistent mental health care, corruption, shitty parenting, climate change, income inequality, racism, and countless other factors contribute to the ebb and flow of mental illness rates.

The AG’s announcement doesn’t really explain the need for the investigation (especially the claim TikTok causes “physical harm”), but does make it sound like it’s already effectively understood that it’s social media that’s directly responsible for the entirety of teenage ills:

“As children and teens already grapple with issues of anxiety, social pressure, and depression, we cannot allow social media to further harm their physical health and mental wellbeing,” said AG Healey. “State attorneys general have an imperative to protect young people and seek more information about how companies like TikTok are influencing their daily lives.”

As history keeps showing us, whatever technology is new and innately poorly understood, it is blamed for age-old problems because it’s simpler than fixing the real, underlying, and often complicated issues. That’s not to say that teens aren’t experiencing body image issues or other problems due to unrealistic portrayals of human beings — or that we shouldn’t research those issues and try to fix them.

But those problems already existed in arenas like traditional media and advertising. They’re simply not specific to social media, or having a cellphone (also routinely blamed as the cause of teen depression). And there’s always a select certainty that comes along with these moral panics that don’t really incorporate the concept that technologies can have both positive and negative effects.

For example, not that long ago there was a massive freak out over claims that TikTok was causing a huge spike in diagnosis’ of Tourette Syndrome among teenage girls. Only later (after the din of false headlines had died out) did folks point out that this likely wasn’t happening at all.

In reality, there was a spike in referrals for those curious if they had Tourette, caused by either increased awareness of what Tourette was due to a lot of famous influencers on TikTok having the disorder (the building of awareness itself being a good thing leading to more people getting help), or by disorder tourism and mimicry by young adults trying to feel more connected or popular (not good, but not a specific TikTok problem).

It would be nice if there was a singular, easy answer that would immediately make the planet’s young adults feel happy, confident in their bodies, and less depressed. But again, there’s no hard evidence that TikTok is the singular cause of these problems. Which leaves you wondering: in an era with so many massive, obvious challenges (climate, hunger, corruption, COVID, war, abysmal mental health care), is a big inquiry like this genuinely the best source of our consistently strained resources?

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Comments on “TikTok Hysteria Returns: AGs Launch Mental Health Impact Inquiry”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Humans gonna human.

Across the nation parents & politicos are screaming that only parents can say how children might be taught, to protect their snowflakes from learning the truth of the nation vs a sanitized disney version where they never have to consider forcing other humans into servitude, reaping the profits of that labor, and then murdering them on a whim was STILL going on not that long ago…

But on the otherhand, they demand that TikTok (?!) take up the mantle of being more protective of their children than the parents are.

Paper, Teddy Bears, MySpace, TikTok… all of these are responsible for the downfall of children, not the patents.

How does this mental gymnastics work?
Only I can decide whats right for my kids because CRT will make my kindergartner feel bad for being white but the state needs to control what my kids might do because of TikTok…
Again how the fsck are humans still alive?

Yes some dipshit children hurt themselves trying to do things they saw on TikTok just like those stupid boomers who put a towel cape on and leapt from the roof to fly like superman… Funny no one is demanding DC stop making super hero stories showing things that if children without super powers tried will hurt them.

Humans manage to never look past the hype to find truth.
That stupid “wreck the school” fad that was breathlessly reported & debated in the halls of Congress… 95% of the videos were staged & no one blew up a school. But you can still find dumbasses using it as a reason TikTok should be investigated for not doing enough… to raise kids.

Who bought the kid the phone?
Who pays the bill for service to the phone?
Perhaps those morons should be slapped for doing a shitty job protecting their kids while demanding the rest of the world do it for them… as long as we protect them from truths we don’t think we should admit to.

But hey lets waste time and resources on the evil chinese tech company (2 targets in 1) investigations rather than suggesting parents use the damn parental controls available to them.

‘I don’t have time to learn how’ – Turn off your NetFlix binge & use that time to raise YOUR crotchfruit.

‘Kids are smarter and will get around it!!’ – 12345 is a stupid fucking password.

Spend 5 whole minutes talking with your children, establish your rules & expectation.
Stop demanding investigations into why your kid saw a superman movie and jumped off the garage… the only person at fault IS YOU.
You spend so much time trying to give your kids more than you ever had but you seem to think giving them more toys will make them better people.

They need their parents to parent them, to make the kids important, to not just keep booking every second of their freetime doing all the things you wanted to do when you were a child that you imagine will make your kid happier… to be rushed & pushed to do things they might not even like but have to do because their parents can’t bother to ask them if they even like it or to see the signs that the kids only do it to keep you from freaking out on them.

But hey… its all TikTok’s fault… Oh I mean Facebook… Oh I mean MySpace… Oh I mean AOL chat… Oh I mean Rock n Roll… Oh I mean negros allowed in the same space… Oh I mean the teddy bear… Oh I mean…

Humans repeating the same things over & over to avoid being responsible. Y’all suck.

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