TikTok is not only annoying. It’s much worse than that
It’s widely acknowledged that depression and suicide have risen among the youth, with commonly attributed factors being traumatic events and dramatic life changes (death in the family, divorce, romantic breakups, etc.), drug use, alcoholism, and over-medication.
Nevertheless, experts (including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have long seen social media as a primary cause for mental health issues. “Over the past couple of decades, social media has impacted every generation, but none more than children and young adults,” wrote Sherry Dillon, RN, CPHRM, in a feature in bravadohealth.com (“Is Social Media Impacting Youth Depression?” May 22, 2018).
She states: “Dr. Laurel Williams, Chief of Psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital says, ‘Many people are worried about how busy they [children] are. There’s a lack of community. There’s the amount of time we spend in front of screens and not in front of other people. If you don’t have community to reach out to, then your hopelessness doesn’t have a place to go’.”
Additionally, “Dr. Karyn Horowitz of Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island also cites social media as a major factor for the rise in youth depression. ‘For some kids, video games can become an addiction leading to social isolation, poor school performance, and impaired sleep,’ she says.”
And the worst social media culprit? TikTok.
One study (“Accelerating dynamics of collective attention,” Lorenz-Spreen, Mønsted, et al., April 2019) found that a person’s attention span dramatically decreases over time from using TikTok and yet the same pattern is not seen in other social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.
Indeed, “TikTok brain’ is a real thing.” Merely viewing a “90-second video clip from the mobile app causes problems in the collective attention span of a person. Now, experts are looking into its effects on kids’ brains using TikTok.” (“TikTok Brain Explained: Endless Dopamine Rush From Short Videos Get Kids Hooked,” Science Times, April 2022)
Ultimately, TikTok is a drug dealer and the drug is dopamine. And right now, 44.4 million Filipinos (with a staggering 67.9% of Filipinos aged between 16-64) are potential addicts: “The app features short videos of lip-synched songs, acting, dances and memes of various sorts. At first glance, TikTok seems like a harmless platform for sharing content and meeting new people. However, this application is a dopamine factory,” says a feature in The Gauntlet (“TikTok is a dopamine factory,” Andrea Silva Santisteban Fort, The Gauntlet, Feb. 14, 2021).
“Dopamine is an excitatory brain neurotransmitter,” Ms. Santisteban Fort explains. “To put it simply, it’s a chemical messenger that sends information from your nerve cells to other parts of the body. The brain releases it when we eat food that we crave, drink alcohol or scroll through social media. This important neurochemical boosts our mood and motivation, giving us a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction as part of its reward system. Dopamine is what makes us desire things and take action based on how much dopamine it is expecting to get from a certain activity. It creates reward-seeking loops in the sense that people will seek to repeat pleasurable behavior, such as spending time on Instagram. Our brains reward us for absorbing information the same way our brains reward us for eating good food. By fulfilling a craving, our brains release dopamine, allowing us to feel pleasure and satisfaction. Nevertheless, dopamine wears out. When this happens, we seek more of it — and the addictive cycle continues,” says Ms. Santisteban Fort.
“TikTok takes advantage of this pattern of behavior. Users receive a constant stream of new videos — a dopamine stimulation — every 15 seconds to one minute. In a Forbes article, Dr. Julie Albright, a sociologist specializing in digital culture and communication, mentioned that TikTok users find themselves ‘in this pleasurable dopamine state, carried away. It’s almost hypnotic, you’ll keep watching and watching’.”
The foregoing takes on a magnitude of a crisis when one considers that 57% of our population are under the age of 30, those under 50 about 90%. And then consider that 57% of newborn babies in the Philippines are illegitimate, many being children of teenage mothers, still more later to become the children of broken homes due to annulled marriages. And every child will grow up amidst a culture seeking to normalize premarital sex, homosexuality, and drugs.
Consider further that the Philippine fertility rate (for women between 15 to 49 years of age) is currently 1.9. Hence, declared the Philippine Statistics Authority, “the Philippines is already below the replacement fertility level [i.e., 2.1]”.
The utterly plausible health, psychological, social, economic, security implications of all that for the country is devastating.
The Marcos administration should take a deep look into what is not only a health and security crisis but also an existential one. A good first step would be to ban TikTok in all government or government-issued computers or devices. Legislation can be made prohibiting children from using TikTok.
But indeed, it would just be better to ban TikTok all together. Philippine and international law are replete with provisions authorizing this for reasons of health and national security.
And really, just for the simple reason of maintaining good taste.
Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence