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TikTok pushes harmful content promoting eating disorders and self-harm into young users’ feeds

Center for Countering Digital Hate Report – Deadly By Design: “Two-thirds of American teenagers use TikTok, and the average viewer spends 80 minutes a day on the application. The app, which is owned by the Chinese company, Bytedance, rapidly delivers a series of short videos to users and has overtaken Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube in the bid for young people’s hearts, minds, and screen time. And yet most people understand very little about how TikTok works or the potential dangers of the platform. Journalists love to talk about Twitter, their platform of choice. Facebook remains the most used platform worldwide, giving politicians, brands, and bad actors an unparalleled pool of potential users to target, and it has received proportionate scrutiny. But TikTok reveals a generational gap in usage and understanding. This report seeks to break down those barriers and give parents and policymakers insight into the content and algorithms shaping young lives today. For our study, Center for Countering Digital Hate researchers set up new accounts in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia at the minimum age TikTok allows, 13 years old. These accounts paused briefly on videos about body image and mental health, and liked them. What we found was deeply disturbing. Within 2.6 minutes, TikTok recommended suicide content. Within 8 minutes, TikTok served content related to eating disorders. Every 39 seconds, TikTok recommended videos about body image and mental health to teens.  The results are every parent’s nightmare: young people’s feeds are bombarded with harmful, harrowing content that can have a significant cumulative impact on their understanding of the world around them, and their physical and mental health. TikTok operates through a recommendation algorithm that constructs a personalized endless-scroll ‘For You’ feed, ostensibly based on the likes, follows, watch-time, and interests of a user. CCDH researchers created “standard” and “vulnerable” accounts in the geographies covered…”

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