TikTok: What parents need to know

If your kids and teens aren’t using TikTok or haven’t mentioned it yet, you can count yourself lucky as a parent. Gaining international popularity last year, TikTok took over the world and became one of the most widely-used social media apps for people under 18. The app was formerly known as Musical.ly and recently merged with the Chinese app now taking the world by storm. In fact, the number of users on TikTok increased by 75 million in December 2018 alone. That’s a big month.

If so many people are using it, then what’s the harm? After all, it can certainly be a good platform to enhance teens’ creativity through music and art to an engaged audience. You probably know about the importance of putting your child’s account on private (but if you don’t, we have a handy guide here😉), so what’s the big issue? It’s important to stay up to date on what your kids are doing online, so here are some of the issues and controversies to note about some newer developments in the TikTok community.


💰 A $5.7 million privacy fine

You might be wondering, how is my child’s privacy in danger from using TikTok? You’ve put your child’s account on private and restricted contact from strangers, so what else is there to do? The app was actually fined $US5.7 million for violating children’s privacy laws recently. Despite the app requiring users to confirm they are over 13 years old to use the app, TikTok operators were aware of younger users’ activities on the app and failed to verify their ages or ensure parental consent was given. The failure to obtain parental consent and to delete personal information at the request of parents lead to this fine.

Information collected often included a user’s email address, name, school and photo. It shows the adolescence of the company and its apparent lack of care for users’ safety over popularity … until they were hit with the fine, of course. Now the company explains it will be starting child-friendly app with stronger policies and privacy protection for children.

As well as this, TikTok announced it will soon be introducing Geo Filters, allowing its users to post stickers and gifs of where they are when uploading a post. Although this is already present on apps like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, this increases privacy risks with viewers being able to see where your child is when posting. This is especially true for children and teens with accounts set to ‘public’, as any online users can find their content… and by extension, their location.


🤬 Predators and Bullying

Along with the privacy issues, another of the largest controversies regarding any global social app is the possibility of predators, strangers and cyber bullies targeting users. With TikTok marketing itself to teenagers and children, would you really be surprised to hear its much more common on this app?

A recent study from BBC Trending found hundreds of inappropriate comments posted that had failed to be removed by TikTok prior to BBC reporting them. Comments were mainly targeting children and teens with sexual connotations or even genuine threats. Despite TikTok claiming in their Community Guidelines that they do not allow “hate speech” or “sexual activity” on the app, the company has largely evaded the issues unless notified by users.

How would you feel about these messages appearing on your child’s profile? (Source: BBC)

Obviously these are horrific things for anyone to see online, especially when directed at themselves. It’s best to minimise this by limiting the amount of people who can comment on your teen’s posts to friends or no one.


🙈 Porn. Everywhere.

As with all social media and creative-driven platforms, TikTok runs the risk of inappropriate content appearing on the app. Thanks to the massive number of underage users, it seems pornography and sexual content isues are much more prevalent on TikTok than on other more established social media platforms. In India TikTok was even banned for a week during April due to the amount of child pornography present, with the state court believing it would spoil “the future of the youngsters and mindset of the children”.

The reason TikTok was banned rather than Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, is due to the app’s lack of supervision and regulation for inappropriate content. As explained in the Predators and Bullying section of this article, TikTok relies on users to report inappropriate content, to which they will then review the content in question. Although not directly promoting pornography on the app, a lack of “automation and human intervention” like on Facebook and YouTube can lead to a digital community with more explicit content.

As the Indian government has now lifted its ban on TikTok, app operators have reassured more regulation and supervision over content in the future. This will hopefully protect children and teens from the inappropriate content that seems to currently be plaguing the app.


👍 What you can do

This information is probably enough to turn you or any parent off TikTok, especially if you have your kids’ profiles in mind. But as you also know, most tweens and teens are probably not going to delete an app just because you tell them so. Opening the conversation with you children can be a very significant way of helping them understand the risks of online media platforms. Ask them about their experience on TikTok or social media: have they accidentally seen something graphic or innapropriate? What did they do when they saw it?

Of course, just telling your kids about the app’s dangers might not make you feel comfortable enough, and that’s completely understandable. Setting up boundaries with social media, especially TikTok, can be helpful in this situation. You can find out how to activate privacy settings on all the main social media platforms including TikTok here.

If you find your teen is using TikTok a little too much and you’d like to restrict access access to unsuitable apps and websites, you can always check out FamilyEye by Yomojo, our parental control app allowing parents to block and filter inappropriate content as you deem necessary. With a FREE one month trial, it’s certainly worth a shot. Learn more about FamilyEye here. 👀