Unveiling the Impact of TikTok and Instagram

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The prevalent social media platforms can have dangerous effects for children. (Nabila Atiqah/Medium)

In the digital realm, social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram have emerged as powerful forces, shaping the self-perceptions and aspirations of today’s youth. With their appeal to easy fame and virality, these platforms have amassed millions of users worldwide, offering a platform for self-expression, creativity, and connection. Yet, beneath the surface lies a complex interplay of technology, societal norms, and individual psychology, raising profound questions about the impact of social media on youth and their images of themselves.

With about 732 million monthly active users worldwide, TikTok has become a cultural phenomenon, particularly among teenagers (DataReportal, 2021). Popular creators like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae have risen to fame, securing lucrative brand deals and even gracing the covers of magazines. However, the connection between fame and race is unsettling; the majority of prominent creators are Caucasian, reflecting broader issues of representation and diversity in media.

Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) adds another layer to the complex dynamics of social media. Studies have shown that FRT is 10–100 times more likely to misidentify Asian and Black individuals than Caucasian individuals (NIST, 2019). This raises concerns about how platforms like TikTok utilize facial recognition algorithms and the role of race in determining virality.

Recent research conducted by Chinese scientists at the South China University of Technology shed light on the use of facial recognition technology within TikTok’s algorithm. The study proposed a more accurate technology for assessing facial beauty, highlighting the failures of TikTok’s current software. Through a comprehensive research study, it was discovered that TikTok’s algorithm, while not explicitly using FRT, incorporates elements of facial beauty prediction. The study found that race plays a significant role in determining virality, with individuals possessing features closer to traditional beauty standards gaining more traction on the platform.

The implications of these findings are profound. TikTok’s algorithm, sensitive and unforgiving to new users, categorizes accounts based on the content they produce, potentially perpetuating biases and reinforcing unattainable beauty standards. This raises concerns about the future of AI and social media, as timelines and feeds become algorithmic projections of societal ideals.

Social media platforms like Instagram present similar challenges. With its emphasis on curated images and filtered reality, Instagram can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and self-comparison among young users. The pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards, perpetuated by influencers and celebrities, can take a toll on mental health and self-esteem.

The prevalence of cyberbullying on these platforms exacerbates these challenges. The anonymity and immediacy of online interactions create fertile ground for harassment and abuse, leading to anxiety, depression, and self-harm among vulnerable youth.

As we navigate the complexities of social media’s impact on youth and self-image, it is essential to foster media literacy and critical thinking skills. Empowering young users to question and contextualize the content they consume can help mitigate the negative effects of social media and promote a healthier relationship with technology.

In conclusion, the influence of TikTok, Instagram, and other social media platforms on youth and their images of themselves is profound and multifaceted. By addressing the intersection of technology, societal norms, and individual psychology, we can work towards creating a digital landscape that fosters positivity, inclusivity, and authenticity.

Written by Imane Moumen

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