Kara Jung: Social media giants must be held to account


Many parents around the country found themselves having to talk to their children about suicide this week after a horrifying TikTok video went viral. So where’s the repercussions for the platforms that allow such footage to spread like wildfire?

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Early this week, many parents around the country found themselves having to talk to their children about suicide.

They were having to comfort children who were shaken and shocked at witnessing it on a social-media platform.

These children didn’t seek it out. They weren’t searching for it.

For one young girl, it popped up in her “For You Page”.

Another saw it because you can’t turn off autoplay for videos on TikTok and they thought they were watching a cat video.

For those that don’t know, TikTok is a video sharing app.

Videos are no longer than 15 seconds, typically set to music and can be viewed by friends and strangers alike.

There’s major concerns around TikTok’s use of data – and yes, I mean the data they collect from your son or daughter and the other 700 million users worldwide who are using it – including the user’s phone number, email address, contacts, location, camera, microphone and files on their smartphone.

The US says it poses a national security risk because of the data it collects. It was temporarily banned in India for its sexually explicit videos.

The French are investigating it for privacy breaches.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in a new report, found it engages in censorship of some social and political issues. Some pollies have called for it to be banned.

And there’s major concerns around strangers being able to send children private messages and the lack of moderation.

And while there are lots of fun dancing videos there’s also dangerous “challenges”, like the “Benadryl Challenge” or the “Skull breaker Challenge”.

Both of those examples have reportedly resulted in injuries and deaths.

Skull breaker challenge, the choking game: When viral videos turn deadly

The growing popularity of social media has seen an increase in viral trends – some fun, but some fatal.

We hold all other facets of our lives to much higher standards. But social media platforms? These companies get away with moral breaches we would be appalled by in any other medium.

TikTok’s algorithm is one that allows anyone’s content to go viral, no matter how many or how few followers they have. It’s one thing people like about it. But the flip side is distressing footage, like the suicide of Ronnie McNutt, which was first uploaded to social media in August but began appearing on TikTok just days ago, can – and did – spread like wildfire. I woke up on Tuesday to warnings from several parents about the video popping up on TikTok, which saw their children inadvertently watching someone take their own life.

That’s heartbreaking.

But it’s also infuriating.

Infuriating that we hold social media platforms to a lesser standard than any other business or service we interact with.

Teen girls pulled into deadly 'proana' groups

‘Proana’ groups are on the rise. They are a disturbing mashup of anorexia and bulimia – that are on every social media platform, encouraging women to starve themselves.

It’s ridiculous that a picture of a breastfeeding mother can be considered a violation of Facebook’s standards and torn down quicker than it takes to burp a baby.

But the militia Kenosha Guard page that called for “patriots to take up arms and defend our city” from Black Lives Matters protesters was initially allowed to stay up.

Yep, Facebook at first refused to delete the page, said it wasn’t breaking any rules despite mounting complaints it was inciting violence.

It amassed a nice 3000 followers before Facebook finally bowed to the pressure and agreed to delete it.

Can you imagine if this was your local cafe? The police would be there to arrest the wrongdoers who were publicly calling for everyone to grab their guns, while the mum would, rightly, be able to breastfeed and enjoy her decaf latte.

Social-media platforms have been much too slow responding to complaints.

TikTok failed to find an effective way to remove all instances of the horrifying video on its site, with young South Australians seeing it well after the platform was informed of its existence.

It’s shameful that our governments and parents groups were the ones having to tell parents to keep off TikTok yesterday because TikTok couldn’t bring the video down fast enough.

It’s abhorrent that those who run these organisations are not held to account in any real way, leaving in their wake thousands of teens and pre-teens, shaken and traumatised by witnessing such shocking footage.

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