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Why TikTok Is So Toxic: Quarantine Edition

Eunice Park

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An iPhone showing the TikTok logo on a white screen, while placed on a grey counter.
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Ladies and gentlemen, the “perfect,” “faultless” look does not exist. The “ideal” physical image often portrayed through social media is just another misguided interpretation of what the status quo tries to tell us.

Not only has social media usage been exponentially increasing globally because of quarantine, but a newer and often-frequented platform, TikTok, has definitely taken over as the hottest trend. But how toxic is TikTok, really?

The greatest issue herein lies in the fact that whatever time-consuming media we perceive as “entertainment” or an “escape from reality,” can actually be a poor mental health vehicle.

The most viewed, shared, and popular uploads on TikTok sport extremely fit or thin girls, which is a huge trigger for teens already struggling with low self-esteem, depression, and especially eating disorders while staying cooped up at home. 

It might be time to take a step back and find other means of entertainment. Being stuck at home with a full kitchen within one’s reach can already be toxic enough while trying to combat mental health issues and eating disorders.

But adding hours of watching TikTok videos daily that seem to predominantly portray “flawless” girls and a whole new standard of beauty, could just as well make quarantining that much harder.

Several teenage girls who are also struggling with maintaining mental health during the quarantine were asked a series of questions about TikTok, two of which were sent to all three interviewees and the rest, personalized. Here’s what they have to say about why TikTok is so toxic:

General Q: Do you feel that TikTok is more of a toxicity than entertainment? Why or why not?

Melissa Gormus (19 yrs. old): I think the toxicity of TikTok honestly depends on the types of videos you watch (the For You page adjusts based on what you like). Personally I find it very entertaining, but I could definitely see how it would be toxic for a younger girl watching the more dance-oriented videos.

Caroline Lacy (20 yrs. old): I think whether or not TikTok is toxic varies a lot from person to person, like most algorithm-driven social media. All platforms have toxic content, and if you’re not careful, the algorithm might drive you down a spiral that leads you into it; let’s say you’re on TikTok watching recipe videos, and then you get recommended a “what I eat in a day” video, because the algorithm knows you like videos about food; this might seem innocuous at first, and it’s possible that it will stay that way.

 But then you might eventually be shown a video of this variety that promotes unhealthy eating behaviors […] then, the more you like these videos, the more frequently the algorithm will show them to you, and suddenly your For You page is flooded with content promoting unhealthy behaviors. 

Personally, TikTok has been more entertaining for me, because I seek out positive and entertaining content […] but for younger people who might not have as much experience determining what is good and bad content, it might be easier to slip into a more toxic side of the app.

Mainly what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to generalize about TikTok, in the same way that I wouldn’t generalize about Youtube or Instagram. There is toxic content and entertaining content on all platforms.

Anna Jarboe (18 yrs. old): I do believe that TikTok is much more than just entertainment. The users have done multiple social experiments in which they find that the stereotypical pretty girls and some very attractive guys are the ones who generate the most likes and popularity on the app. 

This has been shown through clothes, and honestly, people’s body shapes. The app mainly revolves around looks. Although the app has definitely evolved, many people have been hooked since quarantine, and it is still primarily dominated by the stereotypical looks of the users.

General Q: How often do you watch TikTok videos?

Melissa: I watch TikTok very often in light of quarantine. Everyday, for sure.

Caroline: I watch TikTok videos for about 10 minutes, once or twice a day.

Anna: I watch TikToks pretty much everyday now, compared to earlier when I judged and despised the odd gen z stereotyped app. I have been using the app as more of an entertainment tool during the quarantine.

Melissa, what kind of impact do you personally feel that TikTok is making towards adolescent girls’ self-esteem and mental health?

Adolescent girls are definitely negatively impacted by TikTok, much like other forms of social media. TikTok may be especially damaging since the girls doing the dances are usually their peers. Constantly seeing a certain body type glorified can easily make adolescents insecure, especially since they are in such a vulnerable period of their lives. 

For example, even the most popular TikTok girl, Charlie D’Amelio, stopped making videos for a period of time because people had been commenting on how much weight she had gained.

Having people talk about your body as a 15 year old girl is incredibly damaging. Although she addressed the issue, comments from strangers will definitely resonate with her for a long time. After she lost weight, people commented on how they could see her ribs. 

This whole scenario represents how TikTok could be more toxic than entertaining. Although the app is harmless in theory, the way people use it to body shame others while flaunting their own ideals could be having a greater impact on people’s mental health than anticipated.

Caroline! Do you think the fact that the most popular TikTok users are the “picture-perfect” or “ideal” girls needs to change?

I think my answer to this ties back to what I was saying in the first question, which is that yes, most popular TikTok creators are skinny and white, and yes, this is also true of most social media platforms in general, not just TikTok. We have a huge problem in our current culture as a whole of glorifying this particular type of aesthetic, which is reflected in the demographics of the top TikTok creators. 

Obviously I think this should change, and that creators of color, LGBTQ backgrounds, and diverse body types should receive more promotion on these platforms and that the circle of most popular creators should reflect the diversity of the people who use the app. 

I think it’s worth saying, though, that I have literally never seen a video from one of the more popular TikTok creators on my For You page. I really think it depends on the algorithm in this case, too. I can understand, though, how younger people might seek out the most popular content on the platform and thus land on the surfeit of skinny white people who occupy the higher echelons.

How do you personally feel that TikTok affects growing teens struggling with mental health during quarantine, especially those with depression or an eating disorder?

I do know that people with mental health issues will often seek out content that reaffirms their worldview, and that, because TikTok is one of the more popular platforms now, a lot of teens are going to be using it to try and find this sort of content.

I have to defend TikTok for a second, however, because, in my experience, it is significantly harder to find explicitly triggering content on TikTok than it is on Tumblr, the platform I spent most of my teen years using. 

It’s actually a lot easier to find ED recovery content than it is to find pro-ED content; whereas on Tumblr you can easily search up “thinspo” and “pro-ana” and get plenty of results. I think TikTok actually does a good job of censoring pro-ana content.

All in all, social media is what you make of it, and if teens are struggling with EDs or depression, they are going to seek out triggering content in any platform they use— I used to look up depression-related content on Pinterest, of all places, so you can really find it anywhere. 

I personally think TikTok is the lesser of many evils among platforms such as Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram […] it’s harder to photoshop your body in a TikTok video than it is in an Instagram photo.

* “ED” is a common abbreviation for “eating disorder.”*“Thinspo” and “pro-ana” are abnormal & toxic content that promotes an eating disordered lifestyle and anorexia.

Hi, Anna. How do you think TikTok redefines beauty, supports stigmas, and misrepresents how girls should look, and do all of these factors personally add on to the stress of being cooped up at home, or the opposite?

TikTok definitely has a way of brainwashing users into thinking there is an ideal body shape. As I mentioned earlier, the app has a lot of popularity focused on accounts that are deemed as attractive and a lot of times, skinny. Obviously, this would shape the way girls and guys will view their own body. 

“Why am I not popular? Oh, the only popular accounts are these people with this type of body, I have to look like that or else no one will like me.” 

These are few of many resulting thoughts people may have while on an app that holds such a high standard with looks, since it technically did start out as a dance app.  The reason this also may be a bigger issue than other apps is that since it’s an app that people dance on, a lot of the times people only believe “skinny” or “toned” people can dance or are the only desirable ones.  

This has obviously been proven wrong multiple times since the app’s culture is easing up a lot more, but there is still a lot of judgment towards bodies.

Could the videos on TikTok be a trigger for teens struggling with eating disorders, depression, or any other low-esteem issue during quarantine?

TikTok has yet to successfully block or stop the use of pro-ana and a lot of other “pro-” self-destructive behaviors. The users who come across these creators can easily get triggered. 

“If this person is doing this, looks perfectly fine, and is getting clout on here for it, what’s so bad about it?” 

Unlike other apps like Instagram, these pro-destructive behaviors are being romanticized, which is truthfully just going to make those with preexisting conditions to think it’s okay or normal, whilst others who haven’t had a single thought about food or certain depressional aspects are going to potentially get ideas from these videos.

This would increase their likelihood of starting a new and unhealthy chapter that they wouldn’t have started in the first place. Of course, it’s not 100% TikTok’s fault, but these accounts and videos that are showcasing behaviors that are not okay and need to be treated are causing a more widespread issue across the world than there could’ve been if they had restricted videos that have been deemed unsafe or triggering. 

It’s clear to see that while TikTok has become a safe place of entertainment for a large portion of our quarantined population, it is also an unsafe and triggering place for another large and often unaddressed portion of it. It is always of utmost importance to make sure that you only watch/stream content that does not discourage you in any way and that those who do feel that way get help. 

There are plenty of other outlets that those who feel negatively impacted by TikTok can turn to during quarantine. Let’s proactively minimize the amount of time we spend on toxic social media platforms and use our voices to bring to light the mental consequences that TikTok can provoke.

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Why wearing a mask is everyone’s business

Carolyn Martinez

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A dark-haired woman wearing a white medical mask.
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Almost 20 million people have contracted COVID-19 and there have been over half a million deaths as well. Public health experts have emphasized the use of face coverings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. In response, extremist groups have taken to rallying against the use of masks, claiming the required use of masks is an infringement on their rights.

“Masks make us slaves,” mentioned a lady from Berlin. 

“Let kids be kids. No masks,” mentioned another from a Salt Lake City protest. 

The use of masks has been encouraged extensively for its effectiveness in retaining bodily fluid that spreads germs and, if contracted, COVID-19. There are countless graphics and scientific studies that prove the benefits of using masks in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Even so, a Florida restaurant owner, against mandated mask use, offered an anti-mask extremist group free meals at his restaurant, which violated Orange County’s mandate to wear masks in public spaces. Now, Florida is the world’s new epicenter for the virus.

Many people protest outside of a building, people carry the US Flag and other flags, many people carry signs with black and red text.
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The use of masks, as well as the handle of the virus, has become a political topic to be debated rather than a humanitarian emergency.

When public officials require the use of masks, there is a perception that constitutional rights are being infringed. However, in that thought, there’s a selfish disregard for those that don’t have basic human needs met, such as access to proper healthcare. 

This pandemic has exposed the deep-rooted systemic disparities that exist in low-income families’ lack of access to healthcare.

Those that feel so inclined to attend rallies and protest the use of masks feel secure in their access to healthcare, the quality of treatment they may be receiving, and the fact that they can financially afford to be incapacitated by the virus. That is not a luxury that everyone has. 

A man with a beard and a black shirt shouts at a police officer with a mask on and a police uniform.
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Nevertheless, those against the use of masks are constantly in contention with the public officials that require them.

Treating masks as something worth debating invalidates the lives of those who don’t have any of the aforementioned luxuries.

Additionally, it creates an excess of conversation around something timely that can cost people’s lives. 

Some people have taken to social media to voice these protests.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but with the Black Lives Matter movement necessitating protest and attention, communities of color have had to endure two intense traumas.

Politicians have taken the opportunity to politicize the pandemic at the expense of communities of color. And as the aforementioned tweet pointed out, some people just don’t recognize oppression and thus minimize others’ experiences for their benefit. 

People have forgotten to listen to the real experts, those that are informed on the risks of the virus, and are knowledgeable about how it spreads and how to contain it. Instead, they focus on those wanting to start speculative arguments, while millions continue to die.

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4 Psychedelic Drugs That Are Shockingly Beneficial in Treating Mental Health Issues

Anna Leikvold

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Psychedelic drugs have been used across cultures for centuries, but only recently has modern science begun to tap into the potential use of these drugs as a mental health treatment.

The word psychedelic comes from two Greek roots: “psyche,” meaning mind/soul, and “Delos/delic,” meaning to reveal. Thus, the word translates to “soul/ mind revealing.”

Unfortunately, for this potentially revolutionary mental health treatment, the long-held stigma towards drugs continues to complicate research. For a while, this made it nearly impossible to continue looking into the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. These restrictions are loosening, however, and the FDA has even called psilocybin therapy a “breakthrough therapy.” This means more and more researchers are able to study these drugs. The findings are often groundbreaking.

 Trials are currently underway to test psychedelic drugs including psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, and others in order to treat a predicted mental health epidemic that is beginning to occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While more research is needed, preliminary findings are shockingly successful in treating mental health issues including, but not limited to, PTSD, depression, drug addiction, and anxiety.

A red mushroom with white dots growing in dirt, referred to as a magic mushroom.
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Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)

Research done with Psilocybin suggests that it may be successful in providing a lasting decrease in anxiety for people suffering from life-threatening diseases such as cancer. 

In combination with therapy, the drug helped 13 participants “grapple with loss and existential distress.” Nearly all participants reported that they developed a different understanding of dying after using the drug according to Gabby Agin-Liebes, BA, of Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

“Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence, and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence,” said Agin-Liebes.

Another study suggests that psilocybin can be used on patients with treatment-resistant depression with promising results. The results show symptom improvements for the patients after just two psilocybin treatment sessions which remained significant 6 months after the treatment.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca has played an important part in many South American traditional religions for centuries. This plant-derived psychoactive drug was first formulated by indigenous South Americans of the Amazon basin.

 Some communities that use the drug regularly still exist in the 21st century despite exploitative measures of Western nations who saw the drug as “uncivilized.” The substance is typically prepared by a shaman or religious guide and ingested by members of a religious group. The substance is regarded as a valuable tool in places of worship. 

Ayahuasca has only recently been studied as a potential treatment for depression and addiction, or for people coping with trauma. 

“We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection and altruism,” said Clancy Cavnar, PhD, with Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos.

Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., of Laurentian University, highlighted a study of 159 participants who reported on past use of hallucinogens and their emotions and spirituality levels. The study found that using hallucinogens related to a higher level of spirituality and emotional wellbeing as well as fewer symptoms of disordered eating, depression, and anxiety.

Swirling colorful patterns depicting the affects of LSD.
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LSD

A 2016 study found that after taking LSD, healthy participants reported increased optimism and trait openness. The study seems to reinforce the idea that psychedelics improve psychological wellbeing in the mid-long term.

 LSD, like Psilocybin and Ayahuasca, shows promise as a treatment for anxiety and depression among other conditions. It is also commonly reported to increase spirituality and, in turn, emotional wellbeing. 

In an interview with an anonymous source, they claimed that taking LSD substantially decreased their levels of social anxiety.

“Going into the trip, I set an intention to address my feelings of anxiety around my self-perception,” they said. “By focusing on this throughout the trip, I was shocked by how much happier I felt afterward.”
They say that the positive effects have continued in the months following the experience. “I can’t believe how much more self-assured I feel now. It is like night and day.” 

They want to remind everyone that it is a serious drug and not to underestimate the power of it, and not to abuse it. “If you are going to trip, you need to do a lot of research and be in a safe environment with people you trust.”  While they continue to experience long-term positive effects, they know it is not the same for everyone. 

MDMA

MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, is in its third and last phase of clinical trials and is hoping to win approval by the FDA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Findings from the study also suggest that the drug can help treat social anxiety in autistic adults when used in combination with psychotherapy. Twelve adults in the study with moderate to severe anxiety showed “significant and long-lasting reductions in their symptoms” according to the research. 

“Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective,” said Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the study. MDMA and therapy, based on this research, could be a potential breakthrough for this condition.

These studies only represent a small percentage of a larger database of information on the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. While the findings are promising, more research is needed. Self-treatment using these drugs is risky and potentially dangerous.

If you are interested, contact a medical professional and continue to do extensive research before taking any type of psychedelic. Waiting until they are an FDA approved treatment option will be the safest and most effective way to treat any mental health condition.

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How I Began to Live More Meaningfully and How You Can Too

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A young brunette lady wearing a grey sweater and a blue backpack with a logo on it and jeans walks to her university.
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It took me a while to get to this point. I first realized—and I mean really realized— I had a problem during my freshman year of college. But my issues went back years and years. 

I think we’d all like to believe that our problem can be summed up in one little diagnosis or one word, but that’s not how it works at all.

For me, my anxiety feeds into my body image issues, which feed into a lack of self-esteem, which then circles back to my anxiety. 

When I did realize that I wasn’t okay and that the way I was feeling wasn’t sustainable, I decided to do nothing. I actively decided that there was no possible way to change how I felt and that I would always feel this way.

I would never be able to look in the mirror and not ache. I would never be able to break free of the self-pitying, cynical voice in my head. I wouldn’t be able to break away from my social anxiety and the constant fear that I wasn’t good enough and never would be. 

A black and white picture of a young woman wearing a sweater with small beaded designs on it, while covering one hand with another hand.
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I continued to believe this and live this way for a year. I smiled, laughed, and got good grades, but I actually wished I was someone completely different; someone, better. Not everyone wears their anxiety publicly; like covering myself up with a coat, mine was kept hidden until no one was looking. 

It wasn’t until the fall of my sophomore year that I finally told a friend that I was struggling. I spent that entire quarter in a fog—I cried walking to and from class, sometimes leaving in the middle of lectures to hyperventilate in the bathroom. I had a single dorm room at the time, and I spent most of my time there, crying alone instead of in my usual haunts with friends. 

It was there, in my room, that I finally told my friend everything. It was pure coincidence; she would often come bang on my door to scare me and then I’d invite her in and we’d chat and watch TV together. But this time, she caught me crying. Of course, I told her to go away; I convinced myself that I could handle everything alone like I always had. 

But she didn’t leave. She waited outside the door listening, I guess. She waited a few more minutes, and knocked more softly and asked again if she could come in. I wiped off my face, put on my goofy, self-deprecating grin, and opened the door.

I probably lied, said something about what an idiot I was, pretended I was crying over a TV show or commercial. 

A young buzzed man wearing a dark jacket with multicolored stripes and a young dark haired woman wearing a dark red sweater talk with each other at the Counseling and Psychological Services.
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What my friend did next saved me. She just sat cross-legged on my bed and waited for me to tell her everything, so I did. I told her the full truth that I had never told anyone before (and have told only one other person since). She listened and broke in rarely. And when I was all done, she told me I should go to the Counseling and Psychological Services at our university

When I resolutely told her that I could still deal with it alone, she didn’t push me any farther. She just said that she valued me, even when I didn’t value myself. That she would always listen, though she couldn’t promise that she wouldn’t offer advice afterward.

She said that she loved me and that when I look in the mirror, I should tell myself I am beautiful, even if I didn’t believe it at first.

She saw the signs that my own mother didn’t. She noticed the way my smile would drop when no one was looking. She noticed when I would leave our circle of friends to be alone, only to come back with another fake grin.

She noticed how I avoided my own reflection like the plague. She had noticed that her friend could still smile and carry on while being in pain on the inside. 

At the time, it felt inconsequential. I would go on to talk to her many times, and it was only because of her that I finally did seek help by calling a therapist.

I came to the realization that it simply wasn’t fair to treat her and her acts of friendship as therapy.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a friend who will take on that role while they are also trying to take care of themselves. She not only listened, but she pushed me to seek help and understood my emotions and pain though they were illogical and nonsensical at times. 

I definitely should have sought help sooner. I assumed the painful conversations I had with my friend were not helping me, but I was wrong. I began to accept myself for who I was instead of hating myself for the person I thought I saw in the mirror.

No one deserves to hate themselves, though I spent a lot of time convincing myself otherwise. I hated myself for being so pitiful and for crying so much. I hated myself for not being able to control my eating better and for not looking like an Insta-model. 

Frankly, it wasn’t fair of me to lean so heavily on a friend for so long, but I can’t express how grateful I am to her for letting me do so. During that period, I wasn’t giving back to that relationship nearly as much as I received. She did not deserve to bear the full brunt of my problems on her shoulders the way she did.

I’ve only just started therapy over quarantine, but it has not yet cured all my problems. Just a few months of counseling have not “fixed” me, nor have my anxieties and pain melted away.

But, I do know that I am getting there instead of just wallowing in my own feelings and self-directed anger. It honestly feels really good to take action against this negative attitude that has weighed me down for years. Some days, I even feel good when looking at myself in the mirror.

If you or your friend is suffering silently, please consider calling a hotline or the counseling service at your university or place of work. Money is secondary. What others think of you is secondary. You deserve to live meaningfully; you are worth more than the barriers that stand between you and your mental health.

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