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Tik Toking Truants

By David Haldane

Oct. 5, 2023


They’re a common sight online. Tik Tokers gone tall. Teenagers courting turmoil. Bad ones boosting boundaries.

A new study shows the rise of trollers on TikTok. It also documents the platform’s efforts to control their spread by removing offending performances. The two takeaways for Filipinos: that their country hosts one of the world’s largest populations of Tik Tokers and that those creators are on the top-ten list of users most likely to get booted.

Neither of which, I’m sorry to say, comes as much of a surprise.

“What struck me,” I wrote in a column on the subject last year, “is the vast difference between some young people’s online and in-person personas.”

California’s first Filipino American attorney general, Rob Bonta, noticed the same thing, announcing around that time a national investigation into the risks TikTok poses to youngsters. “Our children are growing up in the age of social media,” Bonta said, “and many feel like they need to measure up to the filtered versions of reality they see on their screens.”

“When you combine human behavior and algorithms,” added a therapist specializing in the issue, “things can get messy.”

The recent study, conducted by AI Digital family safety app Canopy.us, sheds further light on the subject. The Philippines, it turns out, is home to about 43,430,000 TikTok users, the sixth largest number in the world. Yet, of those six nations, the study points out, Filipinos are the only ones appearing on the list of Tik Tokers most likely to have their videos removed, specifically at number ten with a removal rate of 10.43%.

The most common causes for removal: minor safety (30.6%), illegal activities and regulated goods (27.2%), adult nudity and sexual activities (14.7%), and violent or graphic content (9.1%). Topping the list of nations most likely to have their videos removed are Pakistan with a removal rate of 70.91%, Azerbaijan at 65.4%, and the Dominican Republic at 21.7%.

“This data underscores the complexities associated with content moderation on a global scale,” a Canopy.us spokesperson said of the findings. “As TikTok continues to evolve, it remains imperative for the platform to adapt and refine its content moderation strategies to foster a safe and inclusive environment for users worldwide, particularly vulnerable minors.”

I was struck by that back in 2022 after noticing what occurred regularly at my home in Surigao City. “My teenage nieces,” I wrote, “would gather somewhere on the property to produce a TikTok video for their followers online. Working in small groups or alone, they would choreograph dance routines compatible with whatever music they’d selected. Then, as their chosen tune blared loudly from Bluetooth speakers, they’d dance their hearts out, grinning widely with pageantry and pleasure. It was only later, seeing the finished products online, that I experienced occasional heart attacks.”

The problem: a definite tinge of highly visible eroticism I’d never noticed in person.

The only countries with more TikTok users than the Philippines, according to the Canopy.us study, are the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and Vietnam. I said it then and I’ll say it again: my youngest daughter is only three. My fondest hope for both of us is that, by the time she’s a teenager, TikTok will be nothing but a distant memory.




David Haldane’s latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon and Lazada. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author, and broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.


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