There have been advancements in technology in recent years, and there is nowhere more progress has been felt than the internet and social media. These two have enhanced connectivity and easy access to information and opportunities, even in Africa. The continent has experienced a significant increase in social media users in the last decade, totalling over 384 million in 2022.
The rise in mobile technology and the internet has allowed for a more extensive user base in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa, with an expected increase of over 250 million users between 2023 and 2028. This increase in social media users signals a technological revolution and a societal evolution.
As children eventually grow into youths and fit into the demands of an evolving world, social media will play a role in their moral and mental development, either negatively or positively. A study conducted in 2016 involving 1,700 people found a threefold risk of depression and anxiety among those who used the most social media platforms.
Recently, TikTok's CEO, Shou Zi Chew, faced questions from the US Congress over claims that the social media app can potentially influence American politics and complaints about the negative impact of TikTok on children, resulting in calls for its curtailment. In Canada, the app is prohibited on government-provided mobile devices, following a similar ban in the European Union.
Although popular among young people, the app has also come under fire for potential privacy abuses and ties to the Chinese government. In Nigeria, parents are more concerned about the type of content on the platform than the privacy concerns, fearing the app may adversely affect their children.
TikTok was launched in 2016 by the Chinese technology company ByteDance, and since then, it has had billions of users worldwide who use it daily for different purposes. Nigeria is among its dedicated users, with an estimated 34 million users, dominated by youngsters who create content and share it on their various accounts.
In Nigeria's TikTok sphere, sexual objectification, sexually suggestive dances, and gestures are prevalent. An online survey conducted by DataCheckz sampled the opinions of 500 Nigerians about TikTok, and 93% of the respondents said children between the ages of 10-17 should not be allowed on TikTok because of the nudity on the platform.
According to Dr Charles Emeka, a children's psychologist, "Most young people on TikTok either want to share or show off what they mostly call 'Nyash'- referring to buttocks, and 'boobs/breast- referring to breasts. These contents spread quickly and are shared across different platforms.".
It raises questions about why such content is created and shared on TikTok and other platforms. Could it be for attention, money, followers, or a maximal opportunity used by some TikTokers to lure viewers sexually?
Mrs Fatima Dikko, a mother of two, aged 15 and 10, said that while it is okay for adults to be on TikTok to share or watch any content of their choice, it becomes a problem when children and teens are allowed to explore TikTok freely to see and even partake in all that goes on in that space.
"Yes, adults can do whatever they want on TikTok, and they can control the effects, but it is a no-no for children and teens. A lot of things can go wrong," Mrs Fatima said. 95% of the respondents on the survey also shared the sentiment that TikTok is not a decent platform for children in Nigeria.
Despite the community guidelines and prohibitions provided by TikTok, sexual content continues to be posted on the platform, with teenagers part of the people who view, share, and participate in such activities. Records have shown that such content is harmful to children's mental health.
TikTok is undoubtedly an entertaining platform, but its usage in Nigeria raises concerns beyond entertainment. According to responses gathered from 500 people, most people do not believe that sexual content and children's participation should be accepted on the platform.
It is important to note that there is a high probability that both "TikTokers" and "sexual content propagators" are part of the survey respondents. However, m to believe the platform may be toxic to children and slowly corrupt society.
While America continues to grapple with China over the political impacts of TikTok, Nigerians are more concerned about the platform's potential for sexual objectification and harm to society. Many suggest that while simply preventing children and teenagers from using the app may not fully address the problem; it is a good starting point.