TikTok has pledged to do more to combat the spread of hoaxes and dangerous challenges. Many TikTok challenges are harmless and fun. Others are riskier, such as this year's milk crate challenge, which led to a spate of injuries. But well-intentioned parents and other adults who want to warn others about dangerous challenges can inadvertently raise awareness of them — even if those challenges are fake.
The company commissioned a survey of more than 10,000 teens, parents and teachers in several countries, including the US and UK. It found that 31 percent of teens had taken part in some kind of online challenge.
Teens were asked about the risk level of a challenge they'd seen online recently, not necessarily on TikTok. Around 48 percent said the challenge was safe, 32 percent said it had a little risk and 14 percent described it as risky or dangerous. Respondents said three percent of challenges were "very dangerous," while 0.3 percent said they'd taken part in a challenge they categorized in that way.
The study found that 46 percent of teens want more information and help to understand the risks of challenges, while 31 percent said they "felt a negative impact" from hoaxes related to self harm and suicide. Recognizing and dealing with hoaxes isn't necessarily easy. Thirty-seven percent of the adult respondents say they find it difficult to discuss self-harm and suicide hoaxes without drawing attention to them.
TikTok says it already removes hoaxes and takes action to limit their spread, but it's planning to do more. It will take down "alarmist warning" videos about fake self-harm challenges. "The research showed how warnings about self-harm hoaxes — even if shared with the best of intentions — can impact the well-being of teens since they often treat the hoax as real," TikTok said. "We will continue to allow conversations to take place that seek to dispel panic and promote accurate information."
The Momo Challenge, for instance, was an infamous viral hoax that a lot of people fell for a couple of years ago. Its spread was exacerbated by those sounding the alarm about the "challenge," which many falsely claimed was urging kids to harm themselves.
Other safety improvements TikTok has made include expanding "technology that helps alert our safety teams to sudden increases in violating content linked to hashtags." Whenever a user searches for content linked to a hoax or dangerous challenge, they'll see a warning label.
The company worked with a clinical child psychiatrist and a behavioral scientist to improve the language of the label. Users who search for hoaxes and harmful challenges will be encouraged to visit TikTok's Safety Center to learn about how to recognize them. If the search is connected to a hoax linked to suicide or self harm, they'll see resources such as contact details for the National Suicide Prevention Helpline.
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 686868 (Canada), or 85258 (UK). Wikipedia maintains a list of crisis lines for people outside of those countries.