Tik Tok videos are funny, entertaining and ridiculous at the same time, and despite growing concern and admonitions about the app, the number of downloads is on the rise. One billion active subscribers per month, according to the company’s recent figures. That is, one out of every seven people on Earth regularly watches clips on the ubiquitous entertainment app. Rapidly increasing subscribers means one thing: no one is heeding the warnings about Tik Tok.
The accusations leveled against Tik Tok and similar platforms usually come from the masses of writers and intellectuals who have turned into tireless preachers calling for the closure of whatever they dislike.
The mistake they make is that in addition to standing in the way of progress and wanting to do away with the natural, joyful expression and diversity of contemporary life, they see these platforms as being for the elite and judge their content on this basis, whereas in reality, they are platforms for the broad masses, not the select few.
It makes sense for the stars of these platforms to be influencers, artists, and athletes, all domains related to entertainment, which sustains the interest of the masses. This is what we have seen historically and globally, undeniable fame has never been for scientists and inventors, but for sports and entertainment stars.
These criticism campaigns stem from an authoritarian mindset and a desire to express superiority over others, but they only present complaints. In my opinion, the danger in these platforms is not in their light-hearted and amusing (or even naive) content, but in the fact that they can be used as a means of division and mobilization.
They are also an effective way of circulating and “recycling” harmful thoughts such as conspiracy theories and narratives of victimhood. I recently watched a Tik Tok video by a deranged person insulting religious symbols and describing them in the worst ways. The goal of this person is clear, which is to use these platforms to sow religious and sectarian discord and to foment an atmosphere of hatred in society.
The crisis here is not in these platforms but in this content that, ultimately, cannot be prevented; it will spread regardless of the consequences. The problem is that we fail to create societies that are intellectually mature and are deeply rooted in values of coexistence and participation without being affected by such harmful content.
On these platforms, one theory that is constantly recycled is that Muslims are victims of the West, their religion is the target of a fierce war, and their countries are being invaded and destroyed. This content is intensely peddled to instill a sense of persecution within the younger generations, who easily latch on to such thoughts, that are then difficult to expunge from their conscience and thinking.
Although the facts on the ground (think only of the number of Muslims in the British government) clearly refute these subversive arguments, the latter are now widely accepted because minds are easily molded to accept them without intellectual resistance.
The reason is clear, and it is the absence – for many decades now – of humanities education curricula in Arab schools and universities that raise the level of critical thinking for understanding reality and history. This troubled time is a result of these schools and universities having been dominated for decades by intellectually and psychologically troubled personalities who have filled generations of youth with crippling ideas that increase their isolation from the world and cast them back into the darkness of the past.
And due to the absence of ideals from the humanities, it is possible to have people who have all the modern technologies at their disposal, but whose thinking is closed and leaning towards violence. We've seen technology creators, doctors, and engineers join extremist organizations and use their skills to commit atrocities. As we know, hate-filled discourses on social media were key tools of pushing young people to join or sympathize with extremist groups.
The solution, in my estimation, is not to close down these platforms, malign them or call their users foolish, but to work on a way of thinking that promotes the values of participation, coexistence and human openness to different religions and peoples, and integration into contemporary life without a feeling of persecution, hatred and isolation from the world. Perhaps this is the best thing we can offer the new generations in the new year, instead of endless admonitions that make us feel good about ourselves in the short-term, but that will dissipate in a matter of hours or days.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.