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Tik Tok, Times up

It's been no secret that the TikTok, the social media platform allowing users to share short videos, build up a following and make money, has strong links to the Chinese Communist Party government. As a result it's long been speculated that the app may be in some way spying on it's users. But it was recently found that the TikTok app has a keylogger which can covertly track user taps and keystrokes when a user clicks a link from within it. This means it could record credit card details, user browsing history and website passwords. It's not a good look. TikTok says the feature isn't turned on at the moment, but it could easily be turned on at any point in time - for example, in the event of an international war.

This is hardly the only complaint TikTok has been subject to. Others include:

  1. Aligning with despotic government's self-interests by eliminating non-propaganda material within those states eg. blocking non-Russian content to Russians during the Ukraine way.
  2. At the other end of the spectrum, failing to moderate harmful content such as the 'blackout challenges' which led to seven children dying, or accounts facilitating dangerous activities like human trafficking.
  3. Encouraging user addiction and developing short attention spans in children.

We are already attention-deficient as a culture and short-video formats like TikTok increase susceptibility. In fact all other social media platforms are strong candidates for facilitating reduced attention spans, amongst other concerns. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook's parent company Meta, has been criticised for tracking user browsing behaviour and encouraging poor body image and self-esteem in young women and men. Based on Facebook's leaked internal research, 13 percent of British teenager users with suicidal thoughts in 2021 could trace these thoughts to Instagram use.

Meta also owns Messenger and Whatsapp, and can pool information about a user from these different apps to build a profile which is then targeted by advertisers via AI algorithms and psychology. Meta famously supplied much of this information to Cambridge Analytica, the company which used the data to support both Donald Trump and Brexit's campaigns. In addition, both Facebook and Twitter are, due to their open and semi-anonymous nature, abused regularly by despotic governmental regimes. Even before 2016, Russian operatives were using Facebook and Twitter to polarize American social discourse. But since then they've organised both Black Lives Matter and anti-immigrant rallies on U.S. soil, as well as rallies for and against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Where is this article going exactly? Am I implying that all social media is bad? Well, yes, obviously; but so are alcohol, television and video games, in the wrong dosage. But I draw a line at engaging in or facilitating criminal behaviour. Some social media woes are purely down to the responsibility of it's users - such as the TikTok users recruiting vulnerable individuals for drug smuggling. However, both Meta and TikTok have repeatedly involved themselves in behaviours they know to be harmful, with no accountability. As such they should be considered inherently dangerous, not simply vectors for dangerous content. Avoid where you can, and where you must use them, limit use. If you're somewhat habituated to turning to social media, try a timer app on your phone, or similar - and when the counter hits zero, times up for the day.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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