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3News Investigates: Is TikTok really dangerous or is it just really popular?

The social media platform has taken the world by storm, but some say it’s a catalyst for trouble.

CLEVELAND — TikTok has grown to become one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, influencing millions along the way with challenges and trends.

But some of the influence has proven to be dangerous. And some even argue it’s a liability.

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It is the social media platform that has taken the world by storm.

In just 30 seconds, anyone, anywhere, of any age can captivate the app's estimated 1 billion users.

“TikTok has really taken a hold of, of many people, especially young people, as a way to share their experiences,” said Jason Mollica, social media expert and professor at American University.

But while there’s fun in scrolling for hours, many across the country say there is a dark side to TikTok.

TikTok has been subject to lawsuits and tied to deaths caused by challenges users follow on the app.

In December, a 12-year-old Richmond Heights boy died after his mom says the “Blackout Challenge” went too far.

The challenge encourages users to hold their breath or suffocate until they lose consciousness.

Last summer, the family of Ethan Liming, an Akron Firestone School senior athlete who died after being beaten to death, said the fight ensued because of the “Splat Gun” challenge.

Much of the influence is absorbed by children and adolescents, who are seemingly the most impressionable by nature.

“They may be viewing it through that lens of, 'this is exciting, this would spike my adrenaline,'” explained Dr. Tori Cordiano, a Cleveland psychologist. “Teenagers tend to be more impulsive than older adults.”

As the saying goes, “What you see on social media isn’t always what it seems,” Cordiano said the same goes for potentially dangerous challenges.

“If they are viewing the challenge, they are presumably viewing somebody or some people executing that challenge successfully, so that's what they're taking in,” she said.

“Are TikTok challenges really dangerous or are they just really popular?” 3News Investigator Marisa Saenz asked.

“I think this is one where it's hard to paint them all with one big paintbrush because there are plenty of TikTok challenges that contribute to the greater good,” Cordiano said. “When we get into the ones that are more dangerous and challenging, it's because they're asking or encouraging people to do things that are not physically or emotionally safe. When we are thinking about guiding teenagers through that, we want to take it back to that decision-making capability.”

Another concern about the app: national security.

The FBI told a congressional committee in November it had “a number of concerns” about the app.

President Biden signed a law banning the app from all government devices at the end of December. On Monday, the White House announced that it is giving all federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok off all government devices. House Republicans are expected to move forward Tuesday with a bill that would give Biden the power to ban TikTok nationwide. 

Closer to home, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order last month banning TikTok on all state government devices

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