TikTok’s Online Frenzies Foster Anti-Social Behavior, Ignite Real-World Chaos

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A recent probe unveiled a concerning trend fostered by TikTok. It appears the popular social media platform has been catalyzing phenomena known as “online frenzies,” stimulating anti-social behavior that disrupts everyday life. Ex-employees suggest that the reluctance to tackle this issue is primarily due to its potential to hinder business growth.

Online frenzies are characterized by TikTok’s unique algorithm that stimulates extraordinary engagement on specific topics, often driving users to create videos that echo these fads. Instances of this disruption have been formally linked to actions in which the platform’s billion users were implicated, like the threatened looting of London’s Oxford Street.

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Research has similarly unearthed multiple instances where amplified attention on TikTok aligned with harmful real-world events. Some of these include an unjust fascination with an Idaho murder case that led to false accusations, interference in the investigation of the missing British woman, Nicola Bulley, school protests evolving into acts of vandalism in the UK, and exacerbating civil unrest in France.

TikTok ex-staffers draw comparisons between these frenzies and “wildfires”, describing them as “dangerous,” especially considering the app’s primary demographic of young, impressionable audiences.

TikTok maintains its positioning, stating that its “algorithm brings together communities while prioritizing safety” and that it removes “harmful misinformation” while reducing unverified information circulation.

However, anecdotes like the Idaho murder case demonstrate how TikTok’s design nurtures an unnatural obsession. Videos discussing the crime accumulated two billion views, a stark contrast to the 80,000 on YouTube. This, according to ex-employees, is due to how the app’s algorithm curates content to appeal to each individual, driving a compulsive creation and consumption of content.

An unsettling example involved TikTok user and Florida resident Olivia, who was compelled to fly out to Idaho to film videos at the scene, one of them garnering 20 million views. In the same case, Jack Showalter found himself a victim to an online witchhunt despite his innocent involvement.

Similarly, when Nicola Bulley went missing in a small UK village, TikTok users such as one named Heather were drawn to post speculative content, even implicating Bulley’s best friend, Emma White, without any evidence. Despite mainstream media covering the disappearance, explicit misinformation spread more quickly on TikTok.

It wasn’t just the spread of misinformation; TikTok frenzies also manifested as protests and riots. A protest regarding the dress code at Merseyside’s Rainford High School shared on TikTok quickly metamorphosed into similar protests in over a hundred other UK schools. The protests, at times, escalated into violence and vandalism.

A few months later, riots sparked in France following the death of 17-year-old Nahel M. Despite the social unrest’s independent spark, riots attracted higher attention on TikTok compared to other social media platforms. The rapid spread of riots to formerly peaceful towns, spurred by TikTok, confirmed fears about the platform’s potential to inflame and escalate unrest across the globe.

The urgency of the issue necessitates exploring strategies to mitigate the potential risks arisen from the almost insurmountable influence of social media platforms like TikTok. The examples above amplify the need for increased oversight and safeguards to prevent harmful real-world consequences that can arise from unchecked online activity.