TIKTOK AND THE PANDEMIC

TIKTOK AND THE PANDEMIC

In February, nearly 113 million App Store and Google Play users worldwide downloaded TikTok, which is a 96% increase over the same period last year. According to the latest estimates, the platform has recorded a real boom, with a trend in progressive growth since the beginning of the global emergency caused by the Covid-19, reaching a peak, in the various states, just at the beginning of the lockdown.

In just over 4 years, the platform is about to reach 2 billion downloads, and has millions of active users worldwide.

The Chinese company ByteDance launched TikTok in 2016. In 2017 the company bought for about 750 million euros Musical.ly, the app that allowed sharing short videos of karaoke and choreography. Then, in 2018, ByteDance integrated the two platforms and kept the name TikTok. The app allows you to upload and share short videos of 15, maximum 60 seconds, with your favorite music in the background, to sing, to dub the characters and scenes of the movies also using special effects, to capture the world around you, and/or your body and your performances, often bizarre, funny, absurd, in banal, everyday, simple or risky situations. In this period of emergency, however, is also used a lot to convey all the information related to the virus. And right from the beginning of the pandemic, in fact, it has also been possible to detect a certain change of trend compared to regular users. It has been defined as the app of the Z generation because it is popular among young and very young people, especially children, but recently it has also been widely used by universities, research centers, which through the platform maintain contact with their respective audiences and, at the same time, make their activities and projects public.

In recent weeks TikTok has started a real collaboration with the World Health Organization and other bodies that are dealing with the emergency in order to share contents related to Covid-19, activating a sort of 'institutional' channel of information transmission. In the meantime, the sharing of typical videos continues incessantly and they tell how the world, especially the youth world, is experiencing the pandemic. The videos range from the do-it-yourself hairdo, to how to wash your hands, put on make-up, dress up, play, keep fit, in the time of coronavirus, mostly through funny images, and with the inevitable background music.

It is as if the Chinese giant was drawing attention to the emergency and it has declared to donate as much as 10 million euros, precisely to WHO. It has also launched the hashtag #coronavirus, with the aim of countering the phenomenon of the spread of fake news through the app. And while all over the world there are many voices in favor of the initiative, there are still those who look with perplexity "at the WHO decision to use TikTok to 'detoxify' the information on the coronavirus. And this is especially (telling) considering that so far the Organization has not been able to contribute to stop the spread of the coronavirus from China to the rest of the world and that it intends to continue praising China", as reported by the Thailand Medical News in early March 2020 ( https://www.thailandmedical.news/news/who-announces-collaboration-with-tik-tok-for-coronavirus-information-can-they-even-get-any-lower )

Yet the platform, despite the controversy, perplexities -and dangers- is growing day by day during quarantine, probably because in these strange days especially young people and children feel the desire for recreation and entertainment.

Young people like it a lot; influencers have to use it, a lot of politicians have become converted tiktokers, so why is it so frightening, and has it made talk so much about itself, in negative terms, especially a few months ago, just before the pandemic broke out?

What are the dangers and risks of TikTok that still remain and with respect to which a certain attention is necessary, even in the period when the app seems to have mainly philanthropic scope, proposing itself as a 'health security collaborator'?

It seems paradoxical, but the greatest danger is in the field of security, in particular, that of personal data and, in general, that relative to the life of the people.

It is news of the first weeks of 2020 that the US Army banned the use of the application on the soldiers’ devices made available by the government, considering the platform a real cyber threat. Moreover, the platform often carries dangerous messages and actions. Dangerous challenges, which lead to imitate behaviors that seriously endanger people's safety, have become viral. A few months ago there was the Skullbreaker Challenge, which, despite the risk of smashing one’s head, became very popular in the social media for several weeks, all over the world. Then, along with the Covid-19 virus, came the video of the absurd performance of licking toilets, as it was a way to recover or prevent from infection, regardless of the possible contagion. And then there is always the risk of pedophilia. In fact, many of the videos propose images of young people exposing their bodies, attracting the malicious ones.

In India the app was banned for two weeks, in April 2019, precisely because of the pornographic content to which the young audience was exposed and therefore because of the danger of child pornography and cyber bullying. And yet, despite this, the Indian market remains one of the main markets with 323 million downloads, in 2019, equal to 44% of the total.

It is a fact that this social is very popular among the very young people. But is TikTok a social network suitable for children? Why are they so fascinated by it?

Children are attracted by the desire for fun, entertainment; the risk, together with the vision of inappropriate and inadequate content, is that all this will turn into a race to the nth like, to increase the number of followers, to gain popularity. And then, it is not excluded that there will be the opposite effect instead and that we get to the disapproval, to real insults, offences, threats, that hurt the person in his dignity. This is the case of cyber bullying, a phenomenon which is also very widespread on the platform and in any case difficult to control.

In reality, children are not able to grasp and fully understand all the dangers connected to the visualization of their performance; or how much the continuous vision of certain images, habits and behaviors, can influence their habits and behaviors. Despite this, there are many children who are spending their days watching TikTok.

TikTok is a challenge. 'Beyond' the competitions, the challenges that are very popular on the platform, the challenge to which the spread of the app calls us is, however, another. It's a challenge that should engage especially adults, and mostly parents, educators, to accompany children in the creation and visualization of content offered by the social network. It's not easy, because children prefer to do it themselves, they can't stand intrusions and controls, and in situations of collective stress and tension, it will be even more complicated. But the challenge is just this: to make sure that it is not, and does not appear, as a control, or even as a supervision, but actually as a sharing, a being together in ' TikTok mode'. Of course you can't improvise it. Perhaps it is naive to think that from one day to the next this rule can be applied and, above all, accepted by young people. It may take a lot of patience and determination. Making young people curious about the decoding of certain messages, inherent in certain contents can be a first step. You can start with the funny videos, the 'apparently' more banal ones, or the obviously dangerous ones, to start discussing them together. And, also, to be the 'director' of videos made especially by children, in an attempt to build a relationship of mutual trust and exchange of opinions on one of the many realities of our world, of our life, so that it does not 'invade' the lives of our children, but they can really control, in a conscious way, its use and enjoyment.