TikTok is fast gaining popularity among youths in Singapore.
But cyberbullying is an issue on the platform, especially towards creators whose content aren't deemed 'good enough', or do not 'look good enough'.
Anna Tang, a 17-year-old with almost 11,000 followers on her TikTok account, @ann.uuhh, has experienced it unfortunately. While Anna initially started filming TikTok dances as a way of having fun, it quickly turned into harassment as strangers on the platform left mean comments on her videos.
While she still enjoys making TikToks, she views it as "a toxic place because people there tend to speak with no filter".
She added that she has been on the receiving end of Fairy Comments, a trend where people leave insulting remarks disguised with hearts and star emojis.
Fairy comments are where insults are veiled as compliments followed by many lighthearted emojis, hence the name.
While she put on a strong front, deep down, she was extremely affected. But what got to her was how the comments received plenty of likes. To her, It felt like those comments were validated by others.
"What if that's what people really think about me? I get that they think it's funny but deep down it really hurts" said Anna.
Another TikToker, 19-year-old Claudia who goes by the moniker @babyclaudiax, told Youth.SG that it is normal to be harrassed on the platform. Claudia has over 140,000 followers, but finds it more peaceful to post videos on a second account with just 13,100 followers.
One particular incident is still etched in her mind. She was fat-shamed after posting a dance video and it was exacerbated when an influencer, whom she refused to name, joined in.
What made her particularly distressed that was no one stood up for her and were "liking" the body-shaming comments instead.
Negative remarks about a creator's physical appearance are rampant on TikTok and are worsened by the 'like' function for comments.
PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM TIKTOK
The incident took a serious toll on her mental health. She even considered quitting TikTok and leaving behind her work of more than five years for the sake of her own well-being. In the end, she opted to switch to a second account instead.
"All the hate really hurt me. [But when] I switched accounts, the hate stopped because no one was watching me anymore. At that point I was so scared that someone would find my page again and come judge me for it," said Claudia.
Thankfully, not all creators have faced the same backlash as others. Emma Lim, also known as @Iemmapotato on TikTok, is a relatively new creator who grew popular making content centered around singing.
Emma Lim started TikTok slightly more than a year ago, and has already amassed a following of over 190,700 followers.
PHOTO CREDIT: TIKTOK/@IEMMAPOTATO
While Emma has not been cyberbullied much, she did go through a harrowing experience in which someone impersonated her and proceeded to leave racist comments on TikTok. This distressed her enough to lodge a police report which unfortunately did not come to fruition.
She has however, seen some rather nasty things left on other peoples profiles. One of the worst examples of cyberbullying Emma has seen happen was regarding a young girl.
"There was a young girl who had eyes who were a little further apart and people were using filters to make fun of her face, she received so much hate that she went private. The most unfair kind of bullying is when it's something the person can't change about themselves," said Emma.
In response to queries from Youth.SG, TikTok's director for trust & safety in Asia-Pacific, Arjun Narayan, said that the company has "robust community guidelines to help people understand how to use the platform in a positive and appropriate way and what not to post".
He added that the guidelines will help "foster a positive space and ensure no violations in terms of hate speech, self-harm and more", and these are enforced by content moderation technologies and teams.
However, Arjun admitted that the responsibility for a positive space on TikTok also lies with users. On TikTok's end they have worked to ensure that users have the appropriate tools to make it a safer platform. From reporting to blocking, users are given a variety of options to take action against cyberbullying.
While TikTok declined to reveal the exact number of harassment reports they received per month, a transparency report shown to Youth.SG showed that only three per cent of all reports from users fell under their harassment and bullying policy.
Unfortunately, there are still many instances of cyberbullying happening on the platform despite measures taken to prevent it. The consensus among influencers is that while TikTok has gone to great lengths to safeguard its community, it is still not enough as cyberbullying remains a big issue.
Head of TOUCH Cyber Wellness, Joanne Wong, believes that "the ubiquitous nature of cyberbullying can cause serious consequences on individuals, their families and communities".
She added that victims have reported psychological, emotional and physical stresses.
The effects of cyberbullying are inescapable and follow victims around wherever they go.
PHOTO CREDIT: PEXELS/KHOA VO
She added that unlike physical bullying, cyberbullying is unrelentless and does not stop when the victim returns home. For example, a blog site or social media post containing
defamatory messages against the victim can continue to invite more bullies to join in and those
posts remain accessible by others at any time of the day.
Knowing that there is no escape, the bullying can cause humiliation and perpetual anxiety in victims even when they are in the "safety of their own homes".
Cyberbullying can result in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety which can result in self-harm, as well as problems with conduct and drug and alcohol use among many others.
She added that reasons for cyberbullying include anonymity, approval, instigate jealousy, a lack of perceived consequences, projection of feelings, protection, reinvention of self and revenge. In some cases, the bully may be of low social status and feels that by attacking others, the attention gained in the process may elevate them.
How can creators learn to protect and safeguard themselves then?
Anna suggested a change in mindset. For example, Anna used to be very sensitive but now laughs at hate comments as a way to protect herself.
Others like Trent James, or @itstjbmxx on TikTok, acknowledge that such a difficult change in mindset may not be as feasible. Instead, he recommended a different approach for those on the receiving end of cyberbullying.
"Convince yourselves that you know you are beautiful and worthy of love, joy and happiness and you won't let others get in the way of that and affect you. Especially since they are people that don't matter in your life," said Trent.
Trent James' content revolves around singing, dancing and skincare routines and currently has over 19,600 followers.
IMAGE CREDIT: TIKTOK/@ITSTJBMXX
If all else fails, Claudia recommends victims of cyberbullying to "confide in friends and family" because victims shouldn't have to go through it on their own.
"Tune out the mean comments and stay strong. Do what you have to do not be affected by them and don't pay attention to it because it can really really cause you harm… if you have to, just leave TikTok, because it's not worth sacrificing your health for it."
Ms Wong encourages those who are victims of cyberbullying to reach out to TOUCH community services at 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm). The helpline is manned by counsellors who will be able to assess the situation and provide the assistance and support callers may need.
Apart from that, victims should save evidence of the bullying, make use of in app functions such as blocking and reporting, and let a trusted adult know about it. In the event that all else fails, victims can take legal action under the "Protection Against Harassment Act", although it is important to note that this is a last resort as legal action may cause a heavy emotional burden on the victim.
Lastly, everyone should reflect on their behaviours on TikTok. Users can also do their part by reporting content and comments that harass and bully others. If you intend to leave mean comments, Trent urges you to place yourself in their shoes.
"Why do you feel like an utter need to tell this person that his teeth are off or that his eyes are too small. Why do you feel the need to say that? Think about just how badly your words, no matter how small, can affect this person if it's multiplied by a hundred," said Trent.
Manage your emotions better during these unprecedented times by 'Braving The New'. More mental wellbeing resources are also available here.
BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: @KONKARAMPELAS VIA UNSPLASH
Living with depression and anxiety in a COVID-19 world
It took me a global pandemic to finally learn how to love myself
The Red Box to be lit up for World Mental Health Day on Oct 10