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  • Robert Farago

TikTok is A Clear and Present Danger

In the 1983 sci-fi movie Brainstorm, scientists invent a device that records and recreates sensory experiences. Gordy records himself having sex. Hal loops the tape to create a continuous orgasm. He can’t unplug. It just about kills him. And there you have it: TikTok brain.

The Wall Street Journal sounded the alarm back in April ‘22.

“TikTok is a dopamine machine,” said John Hutton, a pediatrician and director of the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “If you want kids to pay attention, they need to practice paying attention.”

In short, all those short-form videos on TikTok are turning our kids into lab rats. They’re constantly, tirelessly swiping the screen for one more hit of cocaine. I mean, entertainment.

Less metaphorically, TikTok’s frenetictivity is giving Gen Z ADHD.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’s main symptom: inattention. Difficulty paying attention to details, trouble following instructions, inability to complete tasks, difficulty organizing tasks and activities.

The medical community considers ADHD a genetic disorder, affecting over 6m young Americans. The pharmaceutical industrial complex considers it a $12.9b per year opportunity to excel. Both report increasing incidence.

TikTok coincidence?

TikTok was the first app to platform endless short form videos for America’s thrill-seeking youth. It remains Gen Z’s most popular app.

Before we pop a Ritalin and cast more aspersions on ByteDance’s darling, let it be known that TikTok’s rivals are equally guilty of ADHD propagation. WSJ:

Longer videos are still on YouTube, but it’s the short ones that have recently captured kids’ attention. YouTube Shorts have a maximum length of 60 seconds. They are now watched by more than 2 billion logged-in users every month, up from 1.5 billion a year ago, parent company Alphabet said last month.

Dial M for Meta. A study by Demand Sage reports that an average of 2.35b people per month watch Instagram Reels, expected to swell to 2.5b by the end of the year.

Bottom line: TikTok, Instagram and YouTube short form vids are more addictive than slot machines and short-circuit addicts’ brains. Literally.

But wait! That’s not the worst danger posed by the Chinese member of the trillion-dollar troika.

TikTok is closerthanthis to the Chinese Communist Party; the CCP has a seat on ByteDance's board of directors. More than a few Americans worry that TikTok owners will sashay over to the CCP with their user data.

Up for grabs: user names, email addresses and phone numbers; device IDs and IP addresses, location and demographic data, browsing history, search history and created and shared content (including likes and comments).

What no one‘s talking about: how the Commies would use that data.

Answer? The same way Meta and Twitter influenced the last presidential election and buried the Chinese lab leak theory. By steering users to favored content while sending “troublesome” content into the black hole.

TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have all claimed their algorithm chooses videos based on users’ viewing habits, and nothing more.

We now know the short form media mavens promote or sideline selected videos as they see fit. What, to whom, to what end, they’re not saying.

As of August 2023, TikTok has over 150m monthly active users in the United States. That’s 45.3 percent of our total population.

If you’re the Chinese Communist Party, you’d be stupid not to manipulate users’ feeds to further your human rights-free political agenda.

Anecdotally-speaking, my feed gains and loses topic areas without any discernible meta pattern (e.g., dating advice has come and gone). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one, or won’t be one if and when political push comes to shove.

All things considered, TikTok is a clear and present danger to Gen Z’s cognitive abilities, and a potentially nefarious influence on their views about, well, anything. So… ban TikTok?

Sure! Let the great Americans at Instagram and YouTube manipulate short form video users’ feeds to suit their economic or, indeed, political ends, without the bother of having to compete with Commies.

Hmmm. Let’s Brainstorm this…

After his near-fatal orgasm loop, Brainstorm’s Hal has a spiritual awakening. He vows to use the device to benefit humanity. In the end, nope. The team destroys it, to protect humanity.

When it comes to taking down TikTok, we’re facing a different HAL. This one says, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

I’m afraid too. Maybe it’s time to move to Montana

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