How TikTok decreases Society’s empathy
As a middle-aged introverted writer, I’ve mostly avoided TikTok to date, largely because I don’t like what I hear about it. I have two teen-aged children, neither of whom use the app very much. But many of their friends have active profiles, so I hear about the snarky dangerous pranks via osmosis. In 2021, there was a series of TikTok videos that encouraged the pilfering of soap dispensers and urinals from public school bathrooms. My son’s high school bathroom was a target. Last Halloween, thanks to TikTok, super-gluing costume vampire fangs to teeth trended large. Apparently, the cringe-worthy clips of people struggling to remove the Super-Glued faux choppers amassed over nine million views.
TikTok surfaced last week in the epilepsy-news world, due to its recent “bucket challenge,” which dares viewers to cover an unsuspecting person’s head with a bucket or other container.
What kind of jerky bozos would flaunt these shenanigans on video? And who would want to emulate them? TikTok has over 100 million monthly users, 47% of whom are between 10 and 29 years old. Given that the majority of TikTokkers don’t have fully formed brains yet, perhaps it’s not surprising that so many of them partake in mean, dangerous, sometimes fatal activities.
On March 26th, 35-year-old Lana Clay-Monaghan was shopping at a Tustin, California department store when she became a bucket-challenge target. Her vision was suddenly blocked when somebody placed a hamper over her head. She panicked, struggling as she removed it. Ms. Clay-Monaghan has epilepsy that makes her sensitive to shocking stimuli, so the disorienting stunt triggered a seizure.
According to Ms. Clay-Monaghan’s statement to the Tustin police, a group of boys approached her from behind with a hamper they found in the store. “I immediately felt something come over me…. I started screaming… When I turned around, it was a group of male individuals filming me…. They all had their phones and they were laughing. The last thing that I remember was saying, ‘help me. I have epilepsy.’ “
Whether or not bucket-challenge victims have epilepsy, they would be vexed by these assailants’ odious antics. Ms. Clay-Monaghan’s story resonates loudly with me, as I, too, have epilepsy. Prior to getting my seizures under control with brain surgeries in 2014, I had complex partial seizures in public thousands of times over forty years. But I never had one triggered by a physical attack. Nor was I ever directly assaulted while in the throes of a seizure. Based on my life experience, I took strangers’ kindness for granted. When my children were old enough to understand my seizures’ incapacitating effects, I instructed them to seek out passersby assistance, if they were worried that my seizure seemed bigger than usual. Although my children never had to resort to that, back then I was confident in strangers’ kindness. In my experience, onlookers wanted to help. They sometimes resorted to calling 911, a measure that proved unnecessary, as my seizures were smaller, but they were always trying to help.
“I’m really heartbroken that [the assailants] thought they were being funny. There was a clear point when they knew it wasn’t funny. And I would’ve expected a little humanity … you don’t leave me on the ground — you go and get help,” Ms. Clay-Monoghan said last week.
In addition to infuriation over Ms. Clay-Monoghan’s situation, I am especially distraught about TikTok’s impact on society. Given the platform’s active encouragement of meanness, in today’s world, if I still had seizures, I wouldn’t necessarily depend on strangers’ kindness to safely get through an episode.
Having lived with an intermittently visible disability most of my life, I know firsthand the importance of cultural acceptance of those who are differently-abled. Based on last week’s news, we’ve got a long way to go.