More than a half dozen state attorneys general are investigating TikTok to try and determine if the social media giant is violating consumer protection laws. Their main concern is whether app is harming them there young’uns, and what the company’s executives know about this. Expressing concern for the entire throng, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey lamented that TikTok “may harm their physical health and mental wellbeing.”
But as Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown pointed out, if use of TikTok or another social media product is leaving kids to careening out of control and undergoing psychological torment, it is likely the result of negative interactions with other users. It is probably a correlation/causation error or post hoc reasoning to necessarily blame the site. People can be cruel in person, on the phone, or in a text. It is hardly confined to social media. A user, especially a tween or teen, may feel left out, scorned, or jealous after an hour on TikTok, but they might be in the same situation after experiencing negativity elsewhere.
“These are issues of human nature, not technological issues,” Brown wrote. “You could feel it looking through magazines, attending school, or walking down the street, seeing an ad that makes one self-conscious, or a video game you keep losing.”
Detractors will tie TikTok use to subsequent negative behavior, but Brown noted that it is probable that “self-doubt, sadness, or social isolation may drive young people to partake in more” of the regrettable behavior. Youth who are balanced, centered, extroverted, and active are more likely to demonstrate positive traits, but their being so after using TikTok would never be used to site the app as the reason for their emotional wellbeing. It is likewise just as erroneous to blame TikTok for undesirable traits and negative behavior.
So when politicians or others talk of mandating changes to algorithms or restricting certain types of advertisements, they are putting a Band-Aid on a decapitation. Such actions are failing to address the cause of the issue and these measures would do little if anything to fix it. If an anorexic young girl feels overweight no matter what the scales say, a ban of diet food advertising won’t change this. The same precept applies to trying to social media usage.