For reels?

Google and Meta have been chasing down the Prince of Something New, TikTok, since the arrival of 15 second video clips. It will be looked back on as a pivotal moment in Internet Advertising history – and probably not in a good way.

The videos are mostly garbage, click next, poor quality, scroll down, irrelevant, keep on scrolling, misinformation, scrolly, then … bang – a cute puppy on a skateboard. Oooh, feel the anxiety lift, feel the waves of joy, may even let out a smile. Bang, it’s finished, off we go again chasing our next hit, chasing more something-else content that serves-no-purpose but makes me happy. What a waste of time.

Until I find that hit again, I’ll be anxious and unhappy so best keep scrolling. With 25% of content trying to sell you something, it’s so ad-supported it hurts.

No proof of age is required. If you believe some stories, 1 in 6 toddlers in the UK use TikTok. So, that’s 16% of three and four year olds hooked on a gambling-derived, dopamine-fuelled charge into attention-deficit disorders and unknown longer-term mental problems. It’s so dangerous as to drive children to harm and even their deaths or outright exposing them to suicide content.

Is this how we should be treating young adults, never mind kids and toddlers? Should we be wielding such a weapon to enslave the attention-deficit masses and then brainwash them with whatever the highest bidder wants to say or sell?

No. Of course not. We have enough problems with adult addictions not to add younger cohorts into the mix.

Unlike drugs, alcohol, or gambling the cost of TikTok-addiction looks to be zero. Free. Aside from the time, (TikTok is the king at 95 mins per day), there appears little cost. It can’t be as harmful as cocaine or fixed-odds betting terminals. Surely not?

Almost 600 hours per year of TikTok stacks up against 635 hours spent in school. Maybe this is why we have an explosion in mental issues in the young.

Blame the parents? Well you can as they have the greatest influence in terms of device time – but TikTok is as dominant with young Mums as it is with their offspring. And older parents (40+) still catches the millennial wave, those who grew up free of today’s digital guardrails.

Blame the advertisers? Again, of course you can and I’d argue most ethical brands will have a very cautious approach to marketing to children and not just a “well everyone else does it”. But the temptation is high, despite the risks, so the less scrupulous will engage. There is a distinct lack of scruples today.

Blame the platform? The Chinese state-influenced Byte Dance doesn’t appear to give a toss. They seem to care less about their users than advertising revenue and data-mining. Ah, that’s why they’re called users – it all makes sense now.

Ban the whole shooting match? Nope, it’s out of the bag and cannot go back. Maybe control the data-mining, improve the age-controls, increase the age-limit, make the platform responsible for harmful content, and above all – educate toddlers and young kids of the dangers nice and early.

Besides, a bet on the outcome of Euro ’24, the occasional glass of wine, and even the odd joint you smoked when you were younger arguably did not one iota of harm and often makes living a better experience. So the odd visit to Insta, say once a week for 10 mins won’t do any harm. Two hours a day staring at your phone with the obsessive pick-up/put-down habit is a different thing all together.

Put that device down. Now.