On Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified on behalf of the app to a united — and ornery — U.S. Congress. He was known as in to deal with rising issues from U.S. lawmakers that his platform, TikTok, threatened nationwide safety due to its mother or father firm’s ties to the Chinese language authorities. Whereas discussions of nationwide safety performed a big function within the usually one-sided discussions — many representatives didn’t even give Chew the chance to answer questions — one other, maybe equally giant, pressure of thought animated the listening to: a rising panic that American kids, particularly younger ladies, could be influenced by the evils of the clock app.
“TikTok additionally targets our kids. The For You algorithm is a software for TikTok to personal their consideration, and prey on their innocence. Inside minutes of making an account, your algorithm can promote suicide, self-harm, and consuming problems to kids. It encourages challenges to place their lives in peril, and permits adults to prey on our lovely, beloved daughters,” stated the chair of the committee, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, in her introductory speech.
Paternalistic attitudes, particularly these aimed toward younger girls and ladies, dominate a lot of up to date political thought with regards to the query of how we regulate web platforms. It usually comes with a research-based impetus — the utilization of social media apps like Instagram has been linked with consuming problems — and sends a robust ethical crucial to older constituents: Your daughter is in peril, and we have to shield her. We noticed it this week with the TikTok listening to, and we noticed it two years in the past when lawmakers confronted executives from Fb and Instagram, that are each owned by Meta.
This line of considering embodies old-school patriarchal narratives that younger girls are in peril, and so they should be protected. However there’s one other concern with it solely: It’s utterly unaware of the historical past of the web. Teenage ladies don’t should be shielded from the web, as a result of they’ve constructed the web we all know right now.
The historical past of TikTok and the historical past of recent teenage ladies have been deeply intertwined. A 2022 survey from Pew indicated that 67% of teenage People use TikTok, with 16% of these surveyed saying they use it “virtually continuously.” Whereas different social media platforms, like Twitch, are typically dominated by boys, Pew reported that ladies had been extra doubtless to make use of TikTok. The biggest pioneers within the house have been younger, teenage girls and ladies. The rise of the platform itself went hand in hand with the expansion of stars just like the dancer Charli D’Amelio, who was the most-followed creator for over two years. The app’s breakout second was additionally created by a teen lady: Jalaiah Harmon invented the Renegade dance at age 14. (Though it’s greatest often called a TikTok dance, Harmon first posted her Renegade video on Funimate and Instagram.)
Fan communities — which dominate the app — are additionally usually pushed by younger girls. The Ok-pop fandom’s common age is 23, which means it nonetheless features a important variety of teenagers, and it’s additionally majority feminine. Breakout hits, just like the already unfathomably in style all-girls Ok-pop group NewJeans’ debut, have been fueled by a devoted and arranged group of followers who make edits and educate choreography. American pop stars profit from fangirl affect, too. If you happen to’ve seen something concerning the Taylor Swift tour this week, it’s most likely because of a fangirl who recorded and printed it.
TikTok’s dominance is because of the younger girls and ladies who make content material on the app, and now the platform has over 150 million American customers.
TikTok’s energy extends past cultural sway. Platforms like TikTok have allowed younger girls to seek out their voices politically, extending out to the nationwide degree. In a time when many from the Republican institution refused to acknowledge the outcomes of the 2020 election, the younger Claudia Conway spoke out in opposition to the narrative pushed by her mom, Kellyanne Conway, and all the Trump administration. And he or she did it on her private TikTok.
I don’t suppose TikTok is the end-all-be-all for the empowerment of teenage ladies. In some ways, TikTok has constructed an especially efficient option to capitalize on the labor of younger girls and ladies at even earlier ages. Misinformation repeatedly presents an issue on the platform. There’s additionally the impact that seeing edited photos and our bodies can have on younger adults, which has been a researched and documented drawback on platforms like Instagram. TikTok is a video-based app the place customers get proven movies through an algorithm. This algorithm mirrors — and probably amplifies — varied preexisting biases and wonder requirements by prioritizing movies of people that embody sure traits, like being younger, skinny, pale, and so forth.
Politicians aren’t defending teenage ladies by proposing a ban on TikTok. If something, sudden motion would damage them, as we’d see huge influencer-led industries shut down in a single day. It’s necessary now, greater than ever, to assist the savviness of teenage ladies on platforms like TikTok. Moreover, if there’s a ban and customers transfer to platforms like Instagram, younger girls and ladies would face the identical kinds of points that lawmakers voiced issues about on the listening to.
Put money into schooling that teaches younger individuals to be skeptical concerning the data offered to them. Push TikTok to raised compensate creators for his or her work, and particularly Black creators who’ve probably been excluded from a few of the advantages of web fame. And provides younger girls each digital and bodily areas to study and speak concerning the hardships that include unrealistic physique beliefs and requirements.
In a world that has traditionally excluded girls from highly effective establishments, I, for one, am very cautious of any kind of sudden motion that takes away a platform like TikTok.
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