Monday, 05 Dec 2022

What TikTok does to your mental health: Its embarrassing we know so little

What TikTok does to your mental health: Its embarrassing we know so little


What TikTok does to your mental health: Its embarrassing we know so little

In the few years since its launch, TikTok has already altered the face of the social media landscape, attracting more than 1 billion users and leading competitors to replicate some of its most unique features.

The impact of that explosive growth and the 'TikTok-ification' of the internet at large on social media users remains little understood, experts warn, exacerbating concerns about the impact of social media on our habits and mental health.

"It's embarrassing that we know so little about TikTok and its effects," said Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. "Research often lags behind industry, and this is an example of an instance where that could become a big problem."

The lack of understanding in how TikTok affects its users is particularly concerning given the app's massive popularity among young people, experts say. Increasingly called "the TikTok generation", Gen Z prefers the platform to other social media, with nearly six in 10 teenagers counting themselves as daily users. The majority of US teens have accounts on TikTok, with 67% saying they have ever used the app and 16% saying they use it "almost constantly".

"We owe it to ourselves and to the users of these platforms to understand how we are changed by the screens we use and how we use them," said Michael Rich, a pediatrician who studies the impact of technology on children at Boston Children's hospital.

"We need more information to make informed decisions on how we're going to help younger people understand how to use them thoughtfully and mindfully - or not use them at all."

Concerns about the mental health impacts of social media activity are longstanding, and have only intensified in recent years. In 2021, for example, internal research at Instagram made public by Frances Haugen showed the drastic mental health impacts of the photo app on teen users - including increased rates of eating disorders among teen girls - and sparked widespread calls for stronger regulation.

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