TikTok is Under Fire for Security Reasons and Disturbing Content

Pamela Connellan
on 24 March 2023

TikTok is at a crossroads and depending on the outcome of what’s happening in the US right now – it could end up being banned completely in the US. Already, more than half of America’s states have passed restrictions on the popular social media app and the US federal government has banned it from employee devices.

This week, the Biden administration gave all government agency staff 30 days to delete TikTok from federal devices and systems because of data security concerns. This directive came after the US Congress officially banned the app on all federal government devices in December last year.

The security concerns around TikTok stem from its relationship with Beijing and concerns that its parent company, ByteDance, could be passing on user data — such as browsing history and location — to the Chinese government. Plus there’s concern ByteDance could be pushing propaganda and misinformation on the Chinese government’s behalf.

The recent moves to ban TikTok are also fueled by fears that ByteDance could be helping the Chinese to spy on Western countries and this has meant that other countries – including the UK, Canada and Australia – are making moves to ban the app from government phones.

TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social networks with more than 100 million US users.

This week, TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, appeared before the US Congress for a hearing titled: ‘TikTok: How Congress Can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms.

In TikTok’s defence, Chew said TikTok has spent more than $1.5bn on rigorous data security efforts and rejects spying allegations.

Under Biden’s administration, this is the first time a potential nationwide ban on TikTok has been threatened. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had tried to ban TikTok in 2020 but was blocked by the courts. Any US ban would face significant legal hurdles.

TikTok is also in court being sued for ‘targeting’ a 16-year-old boy’ who took his own life

As well as appearing before the US Congress, the parents of a 16-year-old who took his own life, filed a lawsuit against TikTok in Suffolk County Supreme Court this week. The grieving parents claim their son was “targeted, overwhelmed and actively goaded” into taking his own life by TikTok videos.

Dean and Michelle Nasca were parents of a 16-year-old boy called Chase. The parents claim Chase took his own life last year after receiving more than 1,000 unsolicited videos about violence and suicide from TikTok.

The hearing was held at Capitol Hill this week and US politician, Gus Bilirakis, recounted the story of the boy’s tragic death. Bilirakis told TikTok CEO, Shou Zi Chew: “Your company destroyed their lives,” adding that Chase’s ‘For You’ page “was sadly a window about suicide and death. It’s unacceptable, sir!”

Chase’s parents released a 91-page statement saying: “The TikTok defendants know that violent, dangerous, extreme and psychologically disturbing content triggers a greater dopamine response in minors than safe and benign content.”

The lawsuit claims that TikTok flooded the boy with suicide-themed clips

The parents’ lawsuit claims that Chase didn’t seek out violent content, but was allegedly targeted by TikTok and flooded with depressing and suicide-themed clips for “several hours every day.”

“To maximise user engagement and increase profits, TikTok creates and co-creates such content and deliberately targets children in the United States with violent, dangerous, extreme and psychologically disturbing content from which they can’t look away,” the parents’ statement continued.

On February 18th, 2022, Chase was heading home from the gym when he stopped and messaged a friend on Snapchat saying – “I can’t do it anymore.”

The lawsuit names TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance Ltd. and TikTok Inc.

As Bilirakis said to Chew: “With your two children, would you want them to see this?”

“I want you to warn everyone watching – ‘You may find this content disturbing’,” Bilirakis added.

For more from Women Love Tech about social media, visit here.

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