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Tipsheet

Here's Another Way TikTok Is Screwing Up Our Kids

AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File

I’m old, so I never got into this TikTok trend, and it looks like others who didn’t download this social media app dodged a bullet. First, it is a Chinese mass surveillance device. Beijing steals the data—it’s all been outlined, and there’s even bipartisan support in Washington to ban the app. Hence, why you’ve probably seen a bunch of ads of paid actors claiming that they need TikTok to do their jobs otherwise, they’ll be rendered obsolete. Some think social media is evil, and to some degree, they’re right. There are extremes at either end of this debate, but it’s now an integral part of our society whether we like it or not, and it has been useful in generating support for social causes and events. Yet, with TikTok, there’s this disturbing story of a teenager who committed suicide and whose ‘For You’ feed was flooded with posts glorifying the act before he hung himself.

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Bloomberg had a lengthy piece about the death of 16-year-old Chase Nasca, TikTok, its algorithm, the safety features of these apps, and the narrative that the pervasiveness of social media has detrimentally impacted the mental health of our children: 


More than a year after Nasca killed himself at age 16, his account remains active. Scroll through his For You feed, and you see an endless stream of clips about unrequited love, hopelessness, pain and what many posts glorify as the ultimate escape: suicide. 

“Take the pain away. Death is a gift,” says one video pushed to the account this February, days before the first anniversary of Nasca’s death. In another, a male voice says, “I’m going to put a shotgun in my mouth and blow the brains out the back of my head,” and a female voice responds: “Cool.” 

The feed looked much the same in the days before Nasca died. On Feb. 13, 2022, it surfaced a video of an oncoming train with the caption “went for a quick lil walk to clear my head.” Five days later, Nasca stopped at the Long Island Rail Road tracks that run through the hamlet of Bayport, New York, about half a mile from his house. He leaned his bike against a fence and stepped onto the track, at a blind curve his parents had warned him about since he was old enough to walk. He sent a message to a friend: “I’m sorry. I can’t take it anymore.” A train rounded the bend, and he was gone. 

It’s impossible to know why Nasca ended his life. There are often multiple factors leading to suicide, and he left no note. But two weeks after his death, his mother, Michelle, started searching his social media accounts, desperate for answers. When she opened the TikTok app on his iPad, she found a library of more than 3,000 videos her son had bookmarked, liked, saved or tagged as a favorite. She could see the terms he’d searched for: Batman, basketball, weightlifting, motivational speeches. And she could see what the algorithm had brought him: many videos about depression, hopelessness and death. 

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Too much of anything is detrimental to one’s health. That’s a good rule, but TikTok is different since it’s a state-sponsored spy app. That fact alone is disconcerting, but being used to push mentally unstable teenagers over the edge is a new dark turn.

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