TikTok Wants to Heal Your Trauma

Human-centered companies are the future

Key Takeaways

  • TikTok’s adjustments to its well-being program seek to provide resources for users dealing with self-harm, self-esteem, and mental health issues on the app.
  • The app has housed some disturbing trends and viral videos involving self-harm and domestic violence to a generation of depressed, social media-obsessed teenagers.
  • The human-centered well-being guidelines seek to address issues facing young people, putting the user experience first.
Someone walking and using a phone with neo logos for TikTok in the background.
Barcroft Media / Getty Images

TikTok, the Chinese emerging social media giant, is on a mission to let people know it actually cares about more than the bottom line.

TikTok unveiled new guidelines for community engagement, including a “well-being” specification that seeks to help the youth-focused userbase better access resources related to mental health issues and trauma. New guidelines include opt-in viewing screens for potentially explicit or distressing videos, and resource pop-ups after a user searches for terms like "hatemyself" or "selfharm," among other changes.

There will also be a new coronavirus resource hub to help users assess information related to the recently deployed vaccines and general questions regarding the novel virus.

"As we navigate challenging subjects like self-harm, compassion for survivors is front of mind. Over the coming week, we'll roll out updated resources to support people who may be struggling. These resources were created with guidance from leading behavioral psychologists and suicide prevention experts," Cormac Keenan, the company's head of trust and safety, wrote on the official TikTok Newsroom page. 

"We continue to develop tools to help people manage their TikTok experience…This is especially important in our efforts to support people who want to share their story and use their voice to raise awareness on topics others may find triggering."

Helping Users Deal With Trauma

If you have used TikTok for an extended period, you’re no stranger to its digital well-being program. In a rare move for social media companies that live and die by engagement and time spent in-app, TikTok takes a different approach. If users are on the app with no breaks for an undisclosed amount of time, a video pops up on its "For You" page, urging them to take a break from the app.

"Actions speak louder than words. TikTok can't just say the right catchphrases and socially relevant buzzwords. They have to live it and actively demonstrate these values—even when it hurts."

Those using the social media app to better understand trauma-related issues will be provided the proper channels for help. Over the past year, the platform has seen several disturbing trends emerge and graphic videos go viral, likely sparking the move.

A trend that emerged earlier this year involved teens simulating domestic violence with strategically applied makeup along with intense scenario write-ups, while others cosplayed as abusive or abused partners. In September, a suicide video went viral, amassing millions of views as users reacted to the clip and processed their reactions in follow-up TikToks. 

The app has been inundated with potentially distressing content. The company said its new attempt to better deal with these types of trends and viral videos is an important step in creating an inclusive space.    

"Adopting this policy is smart and proactive," Mark Schaefer, author of Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins, said in an interview with Lifewire

"There is overwhelming research that shows that the more time people spend on social media, the more lonely, isolated, and depressed they feel…The social media industry has come under harsh attack, even from their own employees, over a lack of response to this mental health crisis, so I appreciate what TikTok is trying to do."

A teen using a smartphone in the dark.
Moore Media / Getty Images

People are in a social media-induced haze, which has resulted in an epidemic of pervasive loneliness. That's set the foundation for TikTok’s decision to better adapt its program to address these social woes.

Gen Z, the largest user base on the platform, is having its own mental health crisis. All age groups are seeing an increase in depression and suicidal ideation, but none as pronounced as people under 25. People between the ages of 12-25 comprise the only age group in which more than 10% reported experiencing a major depressive episode in a study that examined data through 2017.

With an increase in long-term mental health issues, TikTok’s attempt to focus on well-being might be a lifesaver, as people have increasingly turned to social media to cope with loneliness and mental anguish.

Human Companies for the Win

For years, consumer data reports have shown that people want brands that are both "socially responsible" and engaged enough with their patrons to help them make a difference. Consultant agency, Futerra, released a report that showed 88% of consumers want brands to help them improve their social footprint. Corporate social responsibility matters to people, especially young people.

Data from a 2015 report on Millennial consumers found that 85% would switch brands to one related to a cause. TikTok is the first of the major social media apps to delve into the world of mental health using words like "triggering," branding itself as a company with a heart. In 2020, the most human company wins.

"There is overwhelming research that shows that the more time people spend on social media, the more lonely, isolated, and depressed they feel…"

"When it comes to doing the right thing, it's pretty easy to stand out in the social media space because of the relatively poor behavior demonstrated by other companies," Schaefer said. "Actions speak louder than words. TikTok can't just say the right catchphrases and socially relevant buzzwords. They have to live it and actively demonstrate these values—even when it hurts."

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