TikTok will now work to remove warning content about self harm hoaxes on the app. Research conducted by an agency hired by TikTok found warnings can contribute to the hoaxes’ dangerous effects by falsely substantiating the hoax and prompting parents to draw attention to the hoax challenges.
According to the study, “The panel confirmed that in their experience there was confusion and misunderstanding on the part of parents about hoax challenges, which was leading to harmful strategies such as sharing unsubstantiated warnings and drawing hoax challenges to the attention of their children and thus increasing the potential for exposure.” TikTok is also instituting improved warning labels and a new prompt that provides resources for users who search for challenges related to self-harm, the company announced today.
Viral challenges have been a perpetual source of harm and danger for young people on the internet. In 2018 the “Tide Pod Challenge,” which encouraged people to swallow the laundry detergent capsules, was linked to multiple injuries and deaths. Similar trends have taken to TikTok, including the “Slap a Teacher” challenge that has left one student facing up to ten years in prison. Major social media platforms have also been under increasing pressure from parents and lawmakers following the release of leaked documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that showed the company is aware of the social and political harms it causes. TikTok’s added protections signal an effort to alleviate concerns associated with challenges and wider concerns about the impact of social media on young people.
“As we started our initial conversations about this project, we talked with online safety experts and we kept hearing how they felt caregivers, teachers, and NGOs weren’t sure how to intervene effectively,” TikTok’s Head of Public Policy, Europe Alexandra Evans wrote in a blog post. “We hope the work we’ve undertaken with these world-leading experts can help make a thoughtful contribution to this topic that others can draw insights and opportunities from as well.”