The algorithm of China’s TikTok app just needs ten minutes after account creation to start promoting suicide videos to 13-year-old kids.
According to research released Tuesday by the corporate accountability organization Ek and was shared with VICE News, the Chinese app’s recommendation system is so sophisticated that, if the teenage TikTok user signals he is sexually unsatisfied, it will start promoting suicide videos within ten minutes.
The researchers imitated what they called “involuntary celibates,” which they called a group of “young men who established a bond about their absence of sexual success with women,” as reported by VICE News. The researchers set up nine different fresh TikTok accounts and listed their age as 13 — the youngest age users can join the platform.
The researchers discovered that the TikTok accounts’ “For You” pages were all filled with the same content after watching just ten videos about “incel”-related themes.
One test account was given a video featuring a clip of Jake Gyllenhaal — whose films are reputedly popular within the “incel community” — and the actor in the video was seen with a firearm in his mouth shouting, “Shoot me. Shoot me right in the face.”
“Be shot or witness her with someone else?” was written in the video’s text.
The vast majority of comments also agreed with the advised suicide. Some comments expressed their loneliness, many of whom claimed to feel “dead inside.” Even his own death within the following four hours was proposed in one comment.
The Jake Gyllenhaal video received over 440,000 likes, over 2.1 million views, 7,200 comments, and more than 11,000 shares before it was removed.
Maen Hammad, an Activist campaigner, and co-author of the study, told VICE News that “it only takes ten minutes and a few clicks on TikTok to descend down the rabbit hole of some of the darkest and most destructive content online.”
“Because the algorithm assumes it knows what you want to see,” Hammad continued, “the algorithm puts you into a spiral of misery, hopelessness, and self-harm, and it’s incredibly tough to come out of that spiral.” Seeing how simple it is for kids to become caught up in this cycle is very disturbing.”
TikTok is well recognized for pushing information that is detrimental to children and young people, and in some cases, this content even results in damage and death. TikTok has overtaken Instagram and Facebook as the de facto social media network for teenagers in the United States.