The spread of information on TikTok: is it harmful or helpful?


Tik Tok user @shwifty766

Opinions expressed in editorials on The Central Trend are the view of the individual writer and are not the opinion of the entire staff of The Central Trend or the Forest Hills Central staff or administration. 

This editorial contains talk of suicide, harassment, school shootings, and violence.  

Years ago, I remember watching 13 Reasons Why, the fictional Netflix series about a girl who commits suicide and leaves behind tapes explaining the factors that contributed to her decision. Each episode dealt with a different disturbing reason, ranging from bullying to drug use to sexual assault. At the end of each episode, a character on the show would speak directly into the camera and give a resource for getting help if you were a victim of anything you had seen or were experiencing in your own life. Despite the resources given, the series was blasted for glamorizing teen suicide and giving teens “ideas.”

Is TikTok going to help or hurt us when it comes to tragedies?”

Fast forward to 2021 and TikTok, and now we are inside the very real tragedy of a classroom in trauma while a school shooter is in the building. There is a knock on the door and a voice that says ‘Sheriff’s office, it’s safe to come out.’ A student replies, ‘We’re not taking that risk right now,’ the voice on the other door says, ‘Okay, well, just open the door and look at my eyes, bro.’ Another student in the classroom says, ‘He said ‘bro,’ red flag,’ at which point the students start evacuating through a ground floor window. If you are like me and find yourself scrolling through the app almost every day, you have probably seen that video countless times over the last week. Is that a bad thing or a good thing?

On one hand, one insightful, quick-thinking student made known that the language that a police officer was using was suspicious. It is a factor that we will all now be forever aware of going forward. However, watching the real-time real-life tragedy unfold has undoubtedly increased my anxiety. While I am, in no way implying that my anxiety is an ounce of what those Oxford kids are dealing with, I have felt compelled to watch the same clip of a video over and over again as it comes up on my feed. Why? Why do I keep imagining what those kids felt like? Is it empathy? Is it the gruesome fascination that we sometimes have when we can’t turn away when passing a car accident? 

Unlike Netflix, there are no disclaimers on people’s TikTok videos; it is real life. For better or for worse, we get information from it. It is also the first place where I heard when the shooter’s parents were apprehended. It takes our viewing history and pumps out more information tailored specifically for us to view on the same subject. We can view video after video about anything we want, including school shootings. Will this help us if we are ever in a dire situation, or is it putting more “ideas” into people’s heads? Is TikTok going to help or hurt us when it comes to tragedies?

Maybe TikTok will help us feel more connected and empathetic to the victims of tragedies. It is a platform for their voices to be heard; one of the victims of the Oxford shooting was even on TikTok from the hospital making a video. On the other hand, it has also circulated unsubstantiated rumors that have escalated our fears. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard has come out this week to say the recirculation of rumors via social media has been hard for his department to combat. He used the example of human trafficking and shopping malls as an example saying that, before his force can address the rumor of a certain shopping mall being a site of abductions, the rumor will have already recirculated around social media platforms several times. He pleaded with the public to remind us that rumors clog the system. 

“Please, I remind everyone to be wary of social media and what’s spread,” Bouchard said. “It’s hurtful to the community. It’s hurtful to the victims, and it spreads false, sad misinformation” (Barrett, 2021).

On the other hand, what better way to appeal to the passions of the public than to enact gun control? Real victims are telling their stories directly to all of us on an unfiltered platform. Above all else, it’s powerful. My anxiety was inflamed watching TikTok, but maybe that, and some rumors circulating around, are justifiable. If this spread of information puts more stringent gun laws in place and gets more students to come forward and report to organizations like OK2Say, I’d say it’s well worth the emotional response.