TikTok, like every other social media platform, started from a wholesome place. Unfortunately, much like the Internet itself, the dreams of a positive platform for the good of society have been replaced by political extremism. White nationalists and extremists who have been driven off of other platforms have now taken their message to TikTok, and the impressionable demographic that comes with it.
Homophobia, racism and conspiracy have flourished behind the power of native content and reclaimed terms like “based” and “simp.”
I personally experienced the left-wing side of TikTok when I became active in engaging with political content on the app. Within a few hours of liking Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez related videos, my “For You” page was displaying pro-Soviet and authoritarian-left content and conspiracies. A popular one I came across several times was the belief that North Korea is simply a victim of imperialism, and all of their crimes are lies told by the U.S.
Luckily, I am in my ’20s, and have a solid understanding of history and politics, but for the younger users of TikTok, these videos can have a serious impact.
Militias have also tried to cash in on the recruitment effort. Groups like the Boogaloo Movement post content that seems familiar but has a more sinister intention.
Members of the movement, which hopes to wage a second civil war, have posted videos brandishing guns and dancing, almost like a militarized version of Charli D'Amelio. The hashtag boogaloo has over 2 million views. To viewers, these creators don’t seem like a national security threat, but instead seem like relatable and reasonable personalities who have a lot in common with the teens on the app.
Unfortunately, conspiracy and misinformation are also running rampant on TikTok. Creators with massive followings have dedicated their entire accounts to repeating popular conspiracy theories. To make matters worse, many of these young creators fail to realize the content they’re redistributing comes with anti-Semitic origins. Conspiracies originally targeted toward Baby Boomers or Gen-X are now appealing to Gen-Z. These include Flat Earth, Pizzagate, QAnon and more.
TikTok has delivered extremists a demographic who hasn’t even finished high school being bombarded by niche, extreme politics and misinformation that grows more common on their feeds with every video they like and comment on.
Well, TikTok is forming its own rabbit hole as the number of users grows. This term “rabbit hole,” should sound familiar if you’ve ever read up on YouTube’s alt-right community. It’s effects are devastating on a micro and macro level.
A rabbit hole works through an algorithm slowly recommending similar content after you watch a video. This could be a rabbit hole of NBA highlights, but it could also be more sinister. You might start by viewing a Donald Trump speech, and within a few hours you’ll be consuming holocaust denier content.
The troubling thing is, age may be a factor in how impressionable viewers are, but nobody is immune. In 2017, NBA star Kyrie Irving made headlines for professing his belief in Flat Earth. A few months later he apologized and said the comment stemmed from him falling into a rabbit hole of flat earth videos.
It’s apparent social media giants have no interest in solving this problem they all obviously have. TikTok is heading for its own notorious rabbit hole. Tankies (extreme, pro-Stalin leftists), QAnoners, militiamen and white supremacists all have a direct line to America’s future, and that’s bad news.
If you know someone who’s fallen into this trap, be patient with them. Try everything you can to inform them of the truth and expose them to non-extreme news and political content. If social media CEOs don’t plan to put a stop to this, it's up to the people in radicalized users' lives to do it.
If you yourself are slipping into the depths of a rabbit hole, get off TikTok. Go outside, talk to friends or just get away from politics and social media. Nobody needs to spend their free time consumed by hateful rhetoric, so don’t. Stay informed with trusted sources, and remember that a lot of what you see on TikTok isn’t real life. You’re not going to meet many “neo-fascist, paleo-conservatives” in the real world. Don’t let lies and extremism prey on you.
Noah Wright is a senior studying strategic communication at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Noah? Tweet him @NoahCampaign.