TikTok, Doom Scrolling, and Digital Self Harm—Protect Yourself

Everyone knows that most social media sites track your activity and use your data to target content toward you. In some ways this can be helpful, like when Youtube recommends videos they know you’ll like to watch. 

TikTok is a particularly curated platform; the “For You” page is basically all content based on content you’ve previously consumed and engaged with. This can be beneficial as well, particularly because I never have to see videos of teenagers dancing. 

However, I’ve noticed this can be quite harmful as well. For instance, when I struggle with my body image, I have noticed I’ll get tons of posts on my page about diet culture and flat tummy workouts. 

Recently, there has been a new trend going around where people show someone who assaulted or abused them and then show themselves now to the song “Seventeen Going Under” by Sam Fender. The song’s lyrics used in the videos are “I was far too scared to hit him, but I would hit him in a heartbeat now. That’s the thing with anger, it begs to stick around.” 

I think it’s incredibly powerful that all these people are choosing to share their stories. But because I saw one, now I’m seeing them constantly. Almost every post I’ve seen for the last two days has been on this theme. I’m constantly inundated with stories of sexual assault. None of these posts come with content warnings, at least none that I’ve seen. 

As a survivor of sexual assault, I find this content to be incredibly upsetting. I’m not sure how I can avoid it getting suggested to me, and I don’t interact with any of the posts, but they still keep coming up on my page. 

It can be hard to look away from this kind of content, even if you know it’s triggering. It can be comforting to a certain degree to see that your pain is not unique. However, it can also be very easy to fall into what some call “doom scrolling,” where you obsessively consume content about a topic that actively makes you feel bad. This is a form of digital self harm. 

Self harm, whether it is digital or physical, is seriously dangerous for you and your health. One major way you can help combat this is to use the block feature to block certain words on apps like Twitter from your feed. 

It can also be helpful to set timers on your phone to limit your times in certain apps so that you don’t spend hours doom scrolling. 

For creators of content, using content warnings is a major way you can help people before they see something that will upset them. It may seem annoying to have to preface your art with a warning, but it can help save someone from being seriously triggered. 

Predictive algorithms have long been in use on a number of apps. But platforms like TikTok are uniquely tailoring the content you see to your desires, and not all of your desires are going to be healthy. Also, because the content is in such short form, it’s easy to spend hours scrolling through and feel like no time has passed at all. So, if you notice you’re having a particularly bad mental health day, or that the content you’re seeing is all geared around negative emotions, it could be best to stay off the app altogether until you find yourself in a more stable state.