Potential TikTok ban threatens high schoolers’ academic and social resources

by Christina Chetram, Sydney Perez, and Davian Polanco

TEENS ON TIKTOK: Currently, teenagers aged 10 – 19 make up the highest percentage of users on TikTok. This age group accounts for approximately 33%, or 280.5 million, of the total users. Chart by Christina Chetram

   In August, President Trump made an executive order to ban the popular social media platform known as TikTok. Teenagers use the platform, not only for entertainment but also as an academic aid. If TikTok gets banned in the upcoming months, millions of users may be losing something that has become a crucial part of their everyday lives.

    TikTok is currently one of the most well known social media apps in America. Users can post short 15-60 second videos of themselves dancing, singing, acting, or even doing comedy. The sensation is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance. Multiple media outlets around the world have reported that this company has had many conflicts regarding user privacy on its apps and has posed threats to our country’s national security. Consequently, President Trump signed an executive order declaring that TikTok would be banned, unless bought by a trusted American company. This ban could entail a great number of losses for students, as the platform is valued for its ability to allow them to express themselves and educate each other.

When high school students watch TikTok, they gain access to information and skills that they may not have learned otherwise. This can range from study hacks or quick and easy ways to improve study habits, to shortcuts in math, and even tips on how to reduce stress. Students view the app as both an academic resource and a social outlet. 

   “There’s a lot of [study] hacks on there [TikTok]. There are things to help you study better and take better notes. For example, I found a video helping me take notes that are easier to understand for my biology class. I also feel like it helps with memory,” said freshman Anna Jorge.

   The conflicts regarding the privacy of the app mainly came to light when the Government of India prohibited citizens from using TikTok and other Chinese apps. These limitations were the result of multiple sources reporting that ByteDance shared users’ data without permission. Following India’s ban, security investigations and reports were done to assess threats the app held to the United States’ national security. After the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States concluded that the app posed a genuine threat to our country, the President released a statement regarding Executive Order #13873, declaring that TikTok would be banned in the upcoming days. In spite of the ultimatum, the President also declared that if there is a full sale of TikTok to a credible American company, then the banning could be lifted. The purchase would have to happen by Nov. 12. The ban is currently delayed while the federal court decides its legality and the actuality of the threats posed.

   “CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] conducted an exhaustive review of the case and unanimously recommended this action [the ban] to the President in order to protect U.S. users from exploitation of their personal data.” stated Treasury Secretary and CFIUS chairman Steven T. Mnuchin. 

    TikTok is one of the most used apps in the country with its focus on permitting users to watch or create content. The 10-18 year old age group comprise the biggest percentage of TikTok users. They are responsible for approximately 33%, or 280.5 million, of its total users. While many creators on the apps make 15 to 60 second videos of themselves doing trendy dances or lip syncing to popular songs, others post short scenes, art projects, funny clips, and even videos giving advice.

 TikTok also allows people to meet and watch the videos of other users who enjoy similar topics. To do this, the app alters a user’s main feed based on the subjects that their account shows interest in. If a person wants to become friends with another user on the app, they can do so by commenting on the creator’s videos, or by starting a chat with them through the direct message section of the app. These resources have allowed TikTok to connect tons of users all over the world. 

   “I feel like TikTok has definitely gotten me more out of my shell and it definitely is a way of making new friends because it’s a popular app. So, yeah, it helps me with starting new conversations,” Jorge said.

    TikTok has become an entertainment phenomenon for millions of users, but its educational value is quickly being realized. TikTok has thousands of users that use the platform to educate and help students in various academic subjects. Some teachers even use TikTok as a way of reaching their students to give them quick study hacks and tips. The app provides students access to tons of videos, showing different methods that can assist in individual students’ improvement in specific subjects.

   Several of the videos aimed towards high school students teach them how to advance their study habits. This includes videos that offer methods regarding organized note-taking or learning how to stay focused. Other videos help students with specific classes such as English, science, or math. They provide quick ways for students to find the answers to questions. These videos are extremely popular with hundreds of them having over one million views.

   “I actually enjoy it [educational videos on TikTok] because I learn things I’ve never learned before. I also think it can be beneficial to kids because we can learn in a way that we can understand, while entertaining ourselves at the same time,” stated junior Kassandra Castro.

EDU-TAINMENT: Freshman Anna Jorge is watching a TikTok video that describes the best study resources for Biology students to use. Anna has used the websites to help study and has found them to be very helpful. Photo by Anna Jorge.

   In a society where the mass of teenagers spend a great amount of time on social media and technology, teachers are  also trying to find new ways to reach their students. Many have begun to utilize Tik Tok. More than half of the high school students in The United States are users on the app. This means that any video that a teacher posts on Tik Tok could be easily accessed by almost everybody in the class. Educators like “tabwesley”, “the_mrskelly”, and “mrs.b.tv”, post a variety of math and science content to help students swiftly learn complex material and concepts that may be difficult to understand.

   “I would do anything to help my students. So I would definitely consider it if it were to be of help to them or if our school was moving in that direction. TikTok is a popular app that children/students are excited about. I think they’d enjoy learning through an app they like and are familiar with using.  It’s part of moving forward with the times – flexibility,” stated former teacher Yesenia Ramos.

   Using TikTok as an academic tool can be a creative way to reach out to students, but the accountability and the reliability of the “shortcuts” posted on the app are a concern. This feeling stems from the fact that there is no way to find out the plausibility of the content that a creator is posting, unless you investigate it yourself. In order to get the most valid information, a student should never use a “trick” or “shortcut” from TikTok without doing the proper research beforehand.

    “It’s really important to fact check what people are saying on TikTok. It’s usually pretty easy to determine whether a hack is reliable. Most times, you will be able to find tons of videos of other people using the specific technique, if it’s a well known and like a legitimate method of learning the concept. If you can’t find anybody else using it [the study hack], then you should probably find another hack,” explained senior Elena Davis.

   While TikTok’s fate still remains undetermined, the impending ban may hurt teenagers more than it will help them. Teenagers are benefitting from the app in multiple ways, despite all of the issues surrounding it. The app has become such an immense component of innumerable teenagers’ lives and it seems that the outlaw of TikTok may leave an extensive void in them.

   “I think TikTok has a very positive impact on teenagers,” Jorge said. “I feel like it [the ban] will hurt them because a lot of teenagers use TikTok like therapy, and for academics and entertainment. And without it, I feel like there’s not a lot to do.”

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