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Navigating the TikTok Storm: Unraveling Concerns from the Wall Street Journal's Tech News Briefing

Mon Oct 09 2023

Screenshot of the Wall Street Journal website article titled "TikTok Feeds Teens a Diet of Darkness"

In the ever-evolving landscape of social media, TikTok has emerged as a juggernaut, particularly among teenagers. However, a recent episode of the Wall Street Journal's Tech News Briefing raises pertinent concerns about the dark side of TikTok's algorithm. In this blog post, we delve into the podcast transcript dated May 18th, exploring key issues such as Montana's ban on TikTok, the intricacies of TikTok's algorithm and quantum computing investments by IBM and Google.

TikTok Under the Lens

The Algorithmic Dilemma

The heart of the matter lies in how TikTok's algorithm directs users toward potentially harmful content related to self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide. The Wall Street Journal's investigation from 2021 highlighted these concerns, prompting assurances from TikTok about algorithmic improvements and strengthened parental controls. However, a recent study discussed in the podcast suggests that the issues persist, particularly among young teens.

"In 2021, the Journal did an investigation into how TikTok's algorithm can steer dark content to users about self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide." — Wall Street Journal

Montana's Bold Move

Montana has taken a drastic step by signing into law the country's first outright ban on TikTok. Passed by the state's legislature, this bill, set to take effect on January 1st, raises questions about the future of TikTok nationwide. TikTok, in response, contends that the constitutionality of the bill will be determined in the courts, setting the stage for a potential legal battle.

"Montana's governor, Greg Gianforte, signed the country's first outright ban of the app into law yesterday. Montana's legislature passed a bill banning the app in April." — Wall Street Journal

Quantum Leap in Computing

In the midst of these concerns, the podcast unveils a different tech landscape - one of promise and innovation.

Quantum Computing Investments

IBM and Google are injecting $150 million into quantum computing research at the University of Chicago and the University of Tokyo. Quantum computing, with its potential to solve problems that classical computers cannot, opens doors to groundbreaking applications like drug modeling. The context of this investment is crucial, as the U.S. and Japan race to outpace China in the development of advanced technologies, including quantum computing.

"IBM and Google are giving $150 million for quantum computing research to the University of Chicago and the University of Tokyo." — Wall Street Journal

The Gray Areas of Content Moderation

TikTok's Content Moderation Challenge

TikTok's defense lies in the claim that it has more than 40,000 safety professionals moderating content and removing posts that violate community guidelines. However, the gray areas emerge when content revolves around personal experiences, recovery journeys, and educational aspects of issues like self-harm and eating disorders. Striking a balance between allowing meaningful content and preventing harm remains a significant challenge for TikTok.

"TikTok says that they have more than 40,000 safety professionals who write community guidelines and moderate content." — Wall Street Journal

The Impact on Teen Mental Health

With two-thirds of U.S. teens using TikTok, the potential impact of exposure to harmful content is alarming. Studies suggest that continuous exposure to distressing content can negatively influence teens' mental well-being, normalizing issues and fostering a sense of hopelessness. The prevalence of a youth mental health crisis adds urgency to addressing these concerns.

"Two thirds of US teens use TikTok according to the Pew Research Center. How big a deal is it for them to see this?" — Wall Street Journal

Ensuring Safety on TikTok

The podcast offers insights into measures that parents and teens can take to ensure a safer TikTok experience.

Parental Controls and Vigilance

Parents can set up their TikTok accounts and use the app's family pairing feature to restrict age-inappropriate content and limit screen time. Additionally, users can filter out videos containing certain words or hashtags. However, the effectiveness of these measures remains contingent on the evolving nature of TikTok's algorithm and content moderation strategies.

"Parents can set up their own TikTok account and use the app's family pairing feature that allows parents to restrict age inappropriate content and limit the amount of time teens spend on the app." — Wall Street Journal

Staying Vigilant against Evading Filters

TikTok's content filters may fall short when users employ misspelled words, soundalike terms, or subtle variations to evade detection. Staying vigilant and reporting problematic content remains crucial in mitigating the impact of harmful material on users.

"People use soundalike words. They misspell words, or they write the word attempt, meaning attempt suicide, and that can evade TikTok's content filter." — Wall Street Journal


The podcast transcript from the Wall Street Journal's Tech News Briefing unravels a complex web of issues surrounding TikTok, from algorithmic concerns to legal battles and tech innovations. As users, parents, and policymakers grapple with the implications, it becomes imperative for all stakeholders to actively engage in conversations and actions that foster a safer digital environment, especially for the younger generation. TikTok's journey, intertwined with legal and ethical challenges, illuminates the broader landscape of social media and its impact on society.

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