Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

TikTok should be regulated, but not for the reason you think

The adverse mental health effects of TikTok could be detrimental
Image courtesy of Nordskov Media.

Debate on the fate of TikTok is taking place in the halls of Congress. The decision on whether to ban a social media app used by 170 million Americans will be decided by 100 senators who are old enough to be the average user’s grandparents.

The reason for the proposed TikTok ban is that it is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which is suspected of collecting users’ data. But Congress is missing the most crucial purpose of this discussion: the adverse mental health outcomes TikTok creates for its users. TikTok should not be banned, but significant regulatory measures should be implemented.

While national security concerns over data collection is a serious problem, I aim to give a voice to the daily and direct psychological and social significance the app has on its users, propose solutions based on this perspective and enlighten the University of Massachusetts community on the negative consequences of TikTok.

Every UMass student possesses an intuitive understanding of TikTok’s reach. In my experience, when going to any public space, whether the omelet bar or the classroom, TikTok will be in my periphery. Most of these 60-second clips portray an innocent face. Entertainment, dance and fitness are some of the most popular categories. The morality of the content, however, is not the problem; the difficulty lies with TikTok’s users consuming content for an average of 95 minutes per day.

For TikTok and its advertisers, 95 minutes is excellent news, but there is a dark side. According to Jena Hilliard from the Addiction Center, “Studies have shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes and shares from these sites cause the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction seen with drugs like cocaine. In fact, neuroscientists have compared social media interaction to a syringe of dopamine being injected straight into the system.”

A study by the University of North Carolina has also found that the habitual checking of social media impacts young adolescent’s brain development. Eva Telzer, a professor of psychology at the University and a corresponding author, said “The findings suggest that children who grow up checking social media more often are becoming hypersensitive to feedback from their peers.” Social media addiction is a real problem that can be seen on the UMass campus, in high school classrooms and in the brain.

While a ban on TikTok would help curtail social media addiction, it would also create a host of other problems. Many people make a living as content creators on the app. Businesses use the platform to advertise. The economy TikTok provides needs to remain intact; at the same time, social media addiction must be stopped.

Achieving both of these goals would entail a large amount of regulation. I propose that users under 18 should be banned from the app, while those of age should have an hour time limit. Teenagers should not be exposed to an app proven to have detrimental social and psychological effects, and adults should not be allowed to excessively use a platform that has the same neurological consequences as cocaine. These regulations would hurt those who earn income from the app, but they are worth implementing to protect the public.

Imposing regulations also brings up the issue of freedom of expression. Opponents of a ban argue that prohibiting TikTok violates the First Amendment. With my proposed regulatory measures, First Amendment rights aren’t entirely violated but can still be seen as being infringed upon. Freedom of expression, however, should be weighed against the psychological and social harms to the American public.

Citizens do not have the freedom to use drugs whose psychological effects have been compared to those of TikTok in countless studies. However, since banning TikTok introduces many problems, the privilege to use the app should still be allowed in some capacity while minimizing adverse health consequences.

Based on available evidence on the influence of social media, weighed against the negative consequences of a ban, regulatory action against the app seems to be the ideal solution. TikTok should be seen through a similar lens as alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana; it should not be taken away, but reasonable regulations should be instituted. Regulation would address the detrimental health outcomes caused by the app while preserving the economic opportunity and freedom of expression TikTok offers. Though I understand these regulations have a small chance of passing, that shouldn’t stop myself and others from proposing an ideal solution.

Isaac Brickman can be reached at [email protected].

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