It seems like everyone is jumping on to the popular social media platform TikTok, with nearly 2.6 billion downloads to date. It’s quickly become one of the hottest social media platforms for tweens and teens, but it’s left a few parents scratching their heads. Although this app seemed to come out of nowhere, it was initially known as Musical.ly. The app was acquired in 2018, bringing a surge of popularity with it.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a stomping ground for virtually every niche and industry, from trending dances to explicit content. Videos are capped at three minutes long, with users able to add text, music, effects, and filters to the content. Posting, watching, subscribing, and the following happens from your phone, with the ability to ‘love’ react and comment on each post.
It’s designed for users 13 and older, although some content well exceeds this age bracket. The “For you page” is generated by an algorithm based on past likes and comments but occasionally throws in a video that doesn’t match previous choices. If all of this seems questionable, that’s because it is.
Want to learn more about TikTok? Here are five things you need to know about the social media site.
Privacy Concerns Have Been Documented
The U.S government opened a security review of the acquisition, with the Federal Trade Commission fining the platform $5.7 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. This penalty was the largest for children’s privacy in history, making it a ground-breaking case. According to the law, any platform collecting the data of children under 13 must collect parental consent – which TikTok failed to do. They also fail to provide explanations of how the data is collected.
Children can be targets
With the ability to direct message anyone on the platform, security can be somewhat iffy on the site. Many users reach out to profiles to share content, videos, feedback, or interact, leaving children communicating with strangers. Flattery, compliments, and emojis can encourage conversations with strangers. The duets feature allows users to mesh a video with another profile. It also makes catfishing quite simple for those wanting to target specific profiles.
If your child is on the platform, carefully comb through any direct messages or interactions with videos. If something seems off, consider a public data check on the account name.
The Comments aren’t Always Friendly
Although millions of users on the platform openly support and encourage others, many users can be dismissive or cruel. If videos aren’t well-received, users can be targeted with react videos, duets, or harsh comments – which is embarrassing to young subscribers. Some users forget local friends and family may come across the videos, especially if they become viral. This can increase bullying in person, as well as online.
“Cringy” videos (those that aren’t well done) can be targets for bullies to make fun of and tease. Trolling is quite rampant, with many suffering from mental health implications. These reactions can negatively impact a child’s self-esteem or feeling of self-worth. Videos can be pretty disturbing to watch, and some reactions (or comments) may actually encourage harmful behaviors (like suicide, for example).
Private Settings Won’t Prevent Explicit Content
While the account may be set to private, it doesn’t safeguard youngsters from graphic content. One video may be considered safe for kids, while a simple swipe to the left highlights the ‘following’ section. This feed highlights videos from followed profiles, including similar themes or other trending content that may not be kid-friendly.
While the platform doesn’t allow nudity, it does enable adult themes. These include lingerie (red light and silhouette challenges) and dangerous activities (milk crate, cinnamon, and choking games). Although many adults find humor in these videos, youngsters may want to replicate the challenges in hopes of going viral.
You’re Two Clicks Away from a Whole New TikTok
The ‘For you’ page is consistently changing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without flaws. Occasionally, a video may show up that is liked by your child (for example, the Choking game), which will change the algorithm in real-time. Assuming your tween interacts with a few videos, they’re likely to end up on the side of TikTok well beyond their understanding.
These may include adult humor, inappropriate lip-syncing, and mental health struggles. They could also highlight dangerous trends or risky videos that could cause serious injuries. Although these videos are allowed on the platform, they may not be appropriate for some viewers.
How to Keep Your Child Safe on TikTok
Online safety is a must on any social media platform, and TikTok is no different. No level of privacy setting is going to prevent all adult content from reaching your child. While on the site, talk to your child about age-appropriate content. Make browsing a joint effort initially so that you can watch the content with your child. If your child isn’t comfortable with you watching with them, there’s a good chance they’re not watching something appropriate. Always set your child’s account to private on the site, under the settings and privacy page. Switch the discoverability off for the profile, so others won’t find the account. This restriction means the videos shared won’t be found either, unfortunately). The settings also allow control of direct messages, comments, and who can duet with the account. You can select friends or off, which will limit contact with strangers. Monitor the account frequently, including shared videos or drafts (videos created but not posted yet).
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