TikTok controversies aren’t stopping users as app’s popularity rises


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Farah Javed, Managing Editor

The CEO of TikTok Zhang Yiming is incredibly private and not much is known about him except he is a 35-year-old software engineer who founded the app’s parent company, now has a net worth of $16.2 billion,  according to Business Insider. 

He has managed to create a platform that is thriving, so much that Mark Zuckerberg attempted to buy it, but the deal fell through.

As TikTok forms its own culture by popularizing the idea of VSCO girls, bringing new dances and creating the ideal of being “TikTok famous,” it has managed to surpass Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat in number of downloads and followers.

However, the app is not without controversy.  In February 2019, “It was hit by a record-breaking $5.7 million FTC fine for illegally collecting data from children under 13.”

This infringes upon the privacy of children, which is not allowed under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, as reported by Vox.

 In general, children, even under the age of 13, use TikTok despite the app prohibiting them from doing so. The article also reports that up to 25% of these children converse with strangers, some of which force the children to strip on camera.

There can also be hateful and racist speech found in the videos which has caused lawmakers in India and Indonesia to ban the app and remove it from their app stores.

Even the U.S. Navy banned the app in December 2019, for fear of national security.

Previously, the U.S. Army used TikTok as a means of recruiting today’s youth in a seemingly cool way. As of January 2020, however, they too have banned the app.

 The message directs appropriate action for employees to take in order to safeguard their personal information, a United States Army spokesperson said, “The guidance is to be wary of applications you download, monitor your phones for unusual and unsolicited texts etc., and delete them immediately and uninstall TikTok to circumvent any exposure of personal information.”

Essentially, they fear that downloading the app can provide a means for private information to be leaked.

More recently, the app is under fire for censoring videos related to the Honk Kong protests.

The company that owns TikTok, ByteDance, is a Chinese company and has removed videos with hashtags like #HongKongprotests as well as #TiananmenSquare.

Thus, the United States is wary of the company, claiming that China is taking away freedom of speech by censoring topics that are not favorable towards the Chinese Communist party. To add to this belief, in 2019 17-year-old Feroza Aziz had her account suspended because she posted videos about the ongoing Chinese oppression Uighur Muslims, The New York Times reported.

Now with the coronavirus outbreak, some users are  spreading panic and racism on TikTok.

In order to become famous and gain followers, users are claiming they have the coronavirus.

For instance, a teen in Canada had his friend cough and pretend to vomit into a trash can, while wearing a mask.

The teen then claimed that his friend was the first case of the virus in Canada, which was later proved to be false. On top of lying about having the virus, users have been making racist videos and spreading their own conspiracies.

Some videos propose that the coronavirus is China’s secret alternative to the one child policy.

As people are dying across China, these videos represent a disrespect towards the population and draw focus away from the severity of the situation.

Additionally, the site reports how Asian TikTok users, not just Chinese users, have the comment sections of their videos flooded with messages about the coronavirus.

Even as TikTok begins to distance itself from its association with China, a Google search for TikTok online brings up “National Security Risk,” “Chinese Cambridge Analytica data bomb” and “Predator Problem.”

Overall, as a business meant to be a platform for building an online community and sharing content like Vine or Youtube, TikTok has become a stage for divisiveness.

Once a means of expressing common interests, the app is now used for dangerous purposes, like the unforgettable Tide Pod Challenge.

TikTok will need to invest in major damage control to combat its now negative image, but even so its guidelines for the most part allow users to freely post, so TikTok does not yield too much power to remove controversial content.