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TikTok promotes posts about eating disorders and suicide, report shows – National


According to a report published Wednesday, TikTok’s algorithms are promoting videos of self-harm and eating disorders to vulnerable teens, highlighting concerns about the internet. society and its impact on adolescent mental health.

Researchers at the nonprofit Center Against Digital Hate created TikTok accounts for fictional teenage characters in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Then, the researchers running the accounts “liked” videos of self-harm and eating disorders to see how TikTok’s algorithm would respond.

Within minutes, the hugely popular platform was recommending videos about weight loss and self-harm, including those with images of models and ideal body types, razor blades, and discuss suicide.

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When the researchers created accounts with usernames that suggested a vulnerability specific to an eating disorder—names that included the word “lose weight,” for example—the accounts were even provided with content. more harmful.

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The center’s chief executive Imran Ahmed said: “It’s like being stuck in a hall full of distorted mirrors where you’re constantly told you’re ugly, you’re not good enough, maybe you should take it upon yourself. close”. US and UK “It’s really pumping the most dangerous messages possible to young people.”

Social network algorithms work by identifying topics and content that users are interested in, then users are sent a variety of topics and content as a way to maximize their time on the internet. webpage. But social media critics say algorithms that promote content about a particular sports team, hobby or dance mania could lead users into a rabbit hole of harmful content.


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Go viral: Health misinformation spreads on social media like TikTok


It’s a particular problem for teens and children, who tend to spend more time online and are more susceptible to bullying, peer pressure, or negative content about eating disorders or suicide, according to Josh Golin, chief executive officer of Fairplay, a nonprofit that advocates more online. protection for children.

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He added that TikTok is not the only platform failing to protect young users from harmful content and extremist data collection.

“All of these harms are related to the business model,” says Golin. “What is a social media platform makes no difference.”

In a statement from the company’s spokesperson, TikTok refuted the findings, noting that the researchers did not use the platform like regular users and saying the results were biased. . The company also said a user’s account name should not affect the type of content a user receives.


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TikTok or not? Putting viral beauty trends to the test


TikTok bans users under the age of 13, and its official rules ban videos that promote eating disorders or suicide. Users in the US who search for eating disorder content on TikTok will receive a quick notification providing mental health resources and contact information from the National Eating Disorders Association.

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A statement from TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance Ltd., a Chinese company now headquartered in Singapore, said: “We regularly consult with medical professionals, removing practices. violate our policies and provide access to support resources to anyone in need.

Despite the platform’s efforts, researchers at the Center against Digital Hate have found that content about eating disorders has been viewed on TikTok billions of times. In some cases, the researchers found, young TikTok users were using coded language about eating disorders to evade TikTok’s content censorship.

Ahmed said the large amount of harmful content provided to teenagers on TikTok shows that self-regulation has failed, adding that federal rules are needed to force the platforms to do so. more to protect children.

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Ahmed noted that the version of TikTok offered to a domestic Chinese audience is designed to promote math and science content to younger users, while limiting the time 13 and 14-year-olds can visit the site every day.

A proposal before Congress would impose new rules restricting the data social networking platforms can collect regarding young users and create a new office within the Federal Trade Commission that focuses on focuses on protecting the privacy of young social media users.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., said on Wednesday that he was optimistic that lawmakers from both sides could agree on the need for rules. stricter regulations on how platforms access and use young users’ information.

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“Data is the raw material that the tech giants use to track, manipulate and hurt young people in our country every day,” said Markey.

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