By Amanda King

Voices Editor

So there’s this app. It’s called TikTok — you’ve probably heard of it.

Created by Beijing-based company, ByteDance, the social media service allows you to post short videos in combination with audio tracks and usually involves a comedic message.

Despite launching in the Chinese market four years ago, TikTok only became available worldwide two years ago, after merging with another popular video-sharing platform, Musical.ly.

Before TikTok, however, the American-made Vine app was the destination for video-sharing and in fact, functioned exactly the same as TikTok, before Twitter bought it out and shut it down.

And since many now well-known influencers made their names on Vine, they’ve immediately flocked to TikTok for more funny shenanigans.

So unsurprisingly, the app has exploded in terms of popularity.

Not only was TikTok the most downloaded app in the first quarter of 2019 it’s also “Gen Z’s favorite app,” as reported by market research and consulting firm, Zebra IQ.

However, recently, President Trump has made several moves aiming to shut the platform down, citing threats to “national security, foreign policy and the economy of the United States” as said in an Aug. 6 executive order.

As you would expect, TikTok users did not take kindly to this “gross abuse of power,” as claimed by “The Verge,” and have launched several social media campaigns to prevent this action with many penning emotional farewells on the app.

Ignoring the idiocy of such an intense, passionate attachment to an app, let’s instead focus on how this addiction began.

Perhaps the most influencing reason that this extreme obsession with TikTok has engulfed American teenagers is the viral “trends” that circulate among users.

“Trends” on TikTok, according to StayHipp.com, are generally unique to the app and employ memes in song, dance or challenge- based videos. For example, the “#ShoeFlipChallenge” involves sitting in a chair, throwing a shoe up into the air and editing the video to show the user in a new
outfit once the shoe lands on their foot.

Harmless, right? Kind of cool, sometimes funny? Sure.

But while some “trends” on the app are just goofy or at the very least not wickedly harmful there are more than a few pushing users to try more offensive and often dangerous stunts. And while most social media apps definitely need to make healthy changes, TikTok most certainly has the greatest need for reform.

Let’s take a look at the “#NewTeacherChallenge,” that began trending around the incoming school year. These videos see parents pretending to FaceTime their children’s “new teacher,” just to film and laugh at their terrified reactions. The pictures used for this trend range anywhere from
mugshots to images of physically disabled people.

One victim of this trend is Lizzie Velasquez, a motivational speaker who was born with a rare genetic disorder that causes an aged appearance.

After seeing herself in multiple iterations of this challenge, Velasquez begged TikTok managers to take such videos down from the app.

But following TikTok’s complete dismissal of her pleas, she spoke to several news outlets such as “People Magazine,” “Fox News” and “Insider” to bring more awareness to the issue.

It’s genuinely baffling that this was necessary that TikTok managers couldn’t see how despite not technically violating any of the rules, this trend is utterly inappropriate and unacceptable.

Even more than that, why would any parent purposely scare their child just to laugh at them?

And above all else, how could any parent instill in their child this idea that people who don’t look like them are scary? That children should be afraid of people with disabilities?

Not to mention that these parents use pictures of actual people, and see no qualm with the fact that these actual people have actual feelings.

Velasquez said it best: “This is not okay, this is a trend that needs to stop.”

Why is it that newer generations have made so much progress in halting online body-shaming, but still find it completely normal to shame physical disabilities? It’s disgusting.

Still not convinced TikTok needs to change?

Let’s pivot to the more dangerous side.

How about the trend where people lick an airplane toilet seat? As if the practice of traveling isn’t daunting enough during an international pandemic, now you can gain a ton more followers if you just record yourself licking a toilet seat. Good trade off, am I right?

Or maybe the one where you’re supposed to overdose on Benadryl so you can hallucinate? Crazy how TikTok didn’t tell you, but taking over a dozen Benadryl pills can also cause seizures and cardiac arrhythmia which three teens in Texas found out the hard way, after they were rushed to the
emergency room.

There’s also that lovely “#SkullbreakerChallenge,” and if the name doesn’t give you a good enough idea of what it entails, picture someone jumping into the air while bystanders kick their legs forward as they come down. As you can imagine, the trend has inspired head, neck and back injuries galore.

These are just a few of the disturbing cases that online watchdog Parentology highlights in an attempt to warn parents about some of the dangerous trends TikTok encourages. But rest assured there are many more to watch out for.

The glorious “#PassOutChallenge,” the wonderful “#HotWaterChallenge” and of course, the “#FireChallenge,” are all extreme accidents in the making, and numerous teens have been hospitalized for trying.

And they get so much worse.

As reported by “The Sun,” there are now over 41 deaths linked to TikTok challenges, including many live-streamed suicides.

Here’s the thing, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade or take on the role of “fun police,” but there is an absolute need for TikTok to reform.

Just like any other social media app, it is vital to watch what you post. But as these challenges show, it is even more important to be careful when posting on TikTok.

There is no way to know which users are watching and might actually attempt to try these dangerous trends. And even if there was a way, why, why encourage people to take these horrifying risks just for a couple of laughs or a handful of followers?

Social media has always had a dark side, but no platform has so wholeheartedly embraced the idea of risking your life for views as TikTok does. There is a problem here.

So while I might agree that banning the app altogether seems drastic, I certainly don’t think it would be a bad thing.

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