TikTok encourages eating disorders, mutes users of colour and disability, and raises several questions of national security, an investigation by the ABC’s Four Corners claims.
Later tonight, the program will air an investigation into the impact TikTok has on Australian teens. The episode, which is helmed by reporter Avani Dias, aims to uncover the truth behind the platform, after a plethora of claims made against it.
These include concerns of cybersecurity, as well as claims that the app promotes eating disorders, and marginalises users of colour, LGBTQIA+ users, users with a disability, and what the app considers “ugly people”.
As one TikTok user told the program: “TikTok isn’t out here to help people. I don’t think it’s come into the world with this intention of helping people.
“If they’re going to make money off of something, then they will make money off of something. I think they maybe need to realise the impact that is having on people.”
“It made me think, ‘is there something wrong with my body? Is there something wrong with it,’” another user told Four Corners.
When COVID-19 first hit our shores and NSW and Victoria were in their first lockdowns, concerns were raised about the impact the app was having on children and their eating disorders. Speaking with ABC at the time, Butterfly Foundation national helpline team leader and clinician Amelia Trinick said: “These videos depict potentially harmful content that has the ability to reinforce negative feelings, attitudes and behaviours — in relation to body image, food, and diet — to a vulnerable youth audience.”
TikTok has since begun to offer resources provided by the Butterfly Foundation to users searching for phrases related to eating disorders on the app. But given that the investigation found that users were still struggling with this issue, it seems that more could be done on this topic.
While users of the app said they’re concerned with the way it allegedly promotes eating disorder behaviours and prioritises TikTok creators who are white, heterosexual, and able-bodied, experts also warned about the cybersecurity risk associated with the platform.
“You never think about the Chinese Government in Beijing having videos of you in your home, outside your home, at the park with your kids, knowing who your kids play with. That’s what they have now potentially with this data set,” a National security analyst told the program.
A former Children’s Commissioner added: “My claim with TikTok at the moment is that they are harvesting huge amounts of data illegally without the consent of children or their parents and they aren’t giving the right level of transparency about what happens to that data or actually what that data includes.”
Last year, the Federal Government conducted two complementary investigations into the app after TikTok was accused of mining users’ personal data for political and commercial gain. The investigations came after former President of the United States Donald Trump threatened to ban it.
In a statement shared at the time, TikTok Australia denied claims that they share users’ personal information with “any foreign government, including the Chinese Government, and would not do so if asked.”
The Four Corners episode into TikTok is on ABC TV and iview at 8:30pm tonight.