The popular TikTok app has become a prominent part of many young people’s lives, but there may be harmful effects of the video streaming being missed.
Just like any social media platform, when signing up for TikTok there are terms of service people must agree to before creating an account. There are over 27,000 words in the terms and most people probably skim just the first few paragraphs, if any of it at all.
Agreeing to the terms waives all moral rights of user content. In the ‘User-Generated Content’ section, the terms of service states, “To the extent any moral rights are not transferable or assignable, you hereby waive and agree never to assert any and all moral rights, or to support, maintain or permit any action based on any moral rights that you may have in or with respect to any User Content you post to or through the Services.”
Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, teaches media ethics and technology and social change at Iowa State.
“So if I’m an artist and I want to put music that I compose or artwork that I composed on TikTok, and they decide they’re going to use that and maybe change the content, you can’t claim moral rights that they’ve ruined your message or they’ve obfuscated the artistry of your music or content,” Bugeja said. “You’ve given that right up and that’s something that is concerning to me.”
TikTok’s Terms of Service also states that “You also waive any and all rights of privacy, publicity or any other rights of a similar nature in connection with your User Content, or any portion thereof.”
People may wonder if it actually matters if they give up all rights to the content they produce and post.
Ellasandra Muse, freshman in psychology, has over 4,000 followers on TikTok. She joined TikTok after hearing a lot about it and watching the children she nannies for be on the app.
Muse said she didn’t read or skim the terms of service, but said she’s not worried about giving up the right to content as she is on the app because she finds it entertaining.
“I don’t know, I think I just literally got addicted to it because watching it is so fun and funny just scrolling through,” Muse said. “And then I thought it was kind of cool that you can get on the for you page and get followers and all that stuff so easily because it’s just by chance instead of like Instagram, you have to have followers.”
Michael Wigton, associate teaching professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, teaches a social media class mostly focused on public relations and advertising.
“People are uploading the content because it’s fun, and that’s what viral stuff has to be,” Wigton said. "It has to be fun, it has to be something people talk about, something that’s exciting and unusual and all those kinds of things.”
In Wigton’s social media class of about 30 students, the majority of them said they don’t read the terms of service when creating social media accounts and if they do look at the terms it is only to glance through.
When asked why they don’t pay attention to the terms, most students said they just want access to the social media and don’t want to miss out on the fun of the platforms.
“It is one of the worst terms of services that you can ever imagine,” Bugeja said. “You’re granting them the right to go into your phone and view your emails and text messages so that they can send you advertising.”
Most of Wigton’s students said they were unaware that by signing up for TikTok and agreeing to the terms of service that they were allowing the Beijing-based company ‘ByteDance’ to access their sent and received texts and emails.
None of the students were that concerned as they said they’re pretty used to hearing about their information being stored. Some of the students mentioned they think things like their Snapchat photos are probably being stored by the government.
One concern the students expressed, which Muse agreed she does think about, is the potentially harmful trends of TikTok.
Muse said she notices some popular content creators on TikTok will joke about topics of mental health and substance abuse. Some of these jokes consist of a trend of girls being obsessed with nicotine-addicted boys and there’s a popular TikTok sound of when life gets hard, “just get a tattoo.”
“When I see popular creators doing that I’m like ‘oh no’ because everyone looks up to them and I don’t want these little kids on this app thinking that that’s cool or glamorizing,” Muse said. “I don’t think that we should be lifting up those things.”
TikTok is known for having a large audience group under the age of 18, this can bring in the question of how safe the app is, specifically in regards to the trends and “challenges” of TikTok that may be of more mature content.
“I feel like so many young kids are on it and I don’t think parents realize that there’s some pretty inappropriate and vulgar stuff on it, especially like a lot of things are sexualized on the app,” Muse said. “I don’t think parents realize that but TikTok does do a decent job of deleting videos that are too out of hand.”
The discussion of what is safe for children to be exposed to and what isn’t is a discussion that happens a lot in life.
“I think that we’ve had these same conversations for decades,” Wigton said. “It was TV like ‘oh you’re kids shouldn’t watch TV, it’s going to ruin them,’ and all these commercials and stereotypes. I think in general, as parents, we just have to have conversations with our children about what they’re seeing and do [they] have any questions if [they] see something that’s not appropriate.”
Bugeja said he tells his students to be aware of what they post on all social media platforms because of their professional lives. Companies often check someone’s social media presence when they apply for a position or are currently working there.
“They also don’t want you in your off hours to use social media inappropriately, perhaps being sexist or using profanity because any time you are doing that online, it can be reported and that affects a company’s image,” Bugeja said. “So I often tell my students to scrub their social media and then to use privacy controls on who can see that social media and who can’t.”
Students can be conscious of using accounts for their personal lives that are separate from those they use for work-related purposes. If something someone does online is deemed inappropriate and reported to the organization they work for, it could have a negative result on their career.
“You have to take the consequence for what you post, it’s as simple as that,” Bugeja said. “If you are using TikTok or Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or any other social media appropriately, and you see offending material there is always a way to report that. And you should. Because you don’t want others infecting the digital environment in which you choose to invest your time.”