Is TikTok safe for kids?
Recently, Forbes published an article titled, How TikTok Live Became a ‘Strip Club filled with 15-Year-Olds. And honestly, it’s about time someone brought this up.
As you may or may not know, there are technically three different feeds to choose from to scroll through when first opening the app. First, the “Following” feed, which includes all the people that you personally have chosen to follow. Second, the “For You Page or ‘FYP’” feed or a feed curated specifically for you; which includes videos from strangers from anywhere around the world. And finally, there’s the ‘Live’ feed which includes Live streams from anyone and anywhere around the world.
People can decide which feed they would like to scroll through and can switch back and forth to different feeds as they please.
And because the TikTok Live feed filters content and Live streams from anyone around the world, meaning you don’t have to follow those people to view their Live stream – that's just it – anyone can access, watch, and engage with this content.
Now TikTok itself is a special type of app. One that we’ve never seen before.
In fact, this study, TikTok and the “Algorithmized Self”: A New Model of Online Interaction, states that unlike other social networking sites, “the experience of using TikTok is one of repeatedly engaging with one’s own self: intra rather than interpersonal connection. As it is designed in a way that encourages users to interact most heavily with.... a trending algorithm which presents users with videos ostensibly catered to their personal tastes and interests.”
And that “in TikTok, the boundaries between user and platform are intentionally blurred.”
While TikTok can be an amazing and creative outlet for all users, TikTok Live is a whole different story. We’ve seen all types of Lives – you name it, it’s been Live streamed.
Anywhere from business owners packaging their products and answering questions, teachers teaching lessons, people having open discussions about controversial topics, people in prison, people sleeping, ASMR, TV shows, to people being paid to take shots of liquor; and the content only gets more explicit from there (to put it lightly).
Live streams truly are a source of diverse content – from various cultures, age ranges, to the topics and themes.
Now the interesting thing about Live streams is that technically the only requirements are that you must be at least 16 years of age and have 1000 followers.
And even though you must be at least 16 to go Live, time and time again, we see those who are under 16 constantly go Live – either on their own or by joining in on other Lives. And when this happens, there are about zero safeguards for them when they do so. Meaning, again, anyone can engage and have interaction. Younger users can (and have) join anyone’s Live including grown adults (which does and has happened).
During a Live stream, a Creator can designate another person as a “moderator” that monitors the comment section for offensive comments and can remove viewers if necessary. However, even then, the comments typically fly in rapidly, becoming more and more explicit, along with the content.
And not only that, but as the Forbes’ article discusses, many of the comments are common phrases disguised as code – for example, commenting that there is a “spider on the wall” or asking for an “outfit check,” in attempt to get the person to turn around. Commenters will also demand actions in hopes of getting the person to oblige, such as, “bark” or “pedicure,” (in attempts to see the person’s feet).
Additionally, the Forbes’ article reveals that after a review of hundreds of Live streams, results consistently show “how viewers regularly use the comments to urge young girls to perform acts that appear to toe the line of child pornography rewarding those who oblige with TikTok gifts.”
Gifted Donations or Getting Paid:
As a creator, you can turn on Live Gifting while Live streaming and get awarded with 'gifts' during the Live that the Creator can then cash out afterwards.
Note: as per TikTok’s Terms of Services, only users 18 years or older can send or receive rewards.
People viewing a Live stream can gift the Creator through coins or tokens which appear on the screen in the form of emojis or pictures of roses, hearts, flowers, and more.
Forbes’ article discusses that it’s easy to not be aware that money is being exchanged because it happens in the form of “fun pictures,” and therefore makes “what’s really going on even easier to miss or dismiss.”
And that because TikTok allows Live Gifting in the form of emojis or pictures of innocent flowers or hearts that it doesn’t necessarily click in a kid’s head that they’re being paid real money and “the parents don’t really stop and think, 'Okay, someone's paying my kid to dance. No, they're just getting little flowers and little hearts.'
It allows people to separate that."
Additionally, the article points to the fact that according to data analytics firm SensorTower, “TikTok users spent more than $2 billion in the app in 2021,” and that the company “declined to comment on how much of that was spent through TikTok Live specifically.”
How does this happen?
So, this then forces us to question, how is this allowed?
First, we must investigate TikTok’s Terms of Services to have a better understanding of how this type of content is allowed.
The minimum age to be on TikTok is 13 years old – however, it's important to note that (currently) there are not any age verification tools when new users sign up, which means that many younger users can (and do) easily lie about their age if they want to.
Results from Forbes shows that “a 2020 study of 9-17-year-olds: almost half of minors in the U.S. use TikTok at least once a day,” and “in the last quarter of 2021, TikTok removed more than 15 million accounts suspected to be younger than 13.”
Therefore, teens and children can (and do) easily lie about their age in order to gain access.
We also can’t go without mentioning Section 230 which is a provision of federal law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which essentially protects big tech companies from legal liability for hosting and monitoring content that is posted to their platforms from third party users. Simply put, this means they are not held responsible for any content posted by a person like you or me.
However, according to Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at U.S. Naval Academy, “in cases in which any Live streams contain child sexual abuse material or sex trafficking, federal criminal laws would apply regardless of Section 230.”
What’s the issue?
The issue is that the content can be extremely explicit, platforms are protected under Section 230, many parents have no idea what really goes on within the apps -- as most apps, particularly this one, are seen as harmless “kids dancing apps” -- and unfortunately, that the youth are the most impressionable users.
Many kids and their friends use social media and see it as ‘the cool thing to do’ and may feel pressured to do things that they aren’t necessarily fully comfortable doing.
Additionally, young users don’t always have the cognitive development to understand the dangers of what this can potentially lead to.
What can it lead to?
As more and more teens and children are spending time online, it’s important to understand the dangers that online activity can potentially lead to. It’s no secret that the ‘dark web’ exists, and most of us are aware of what this means.
A few risks to be aware of:
Exchanges that may generate material that potentially will never go away with screen captures (screencaps or screenshots) and screen recordings
Identify Theft via Digital Footprints (view this video here to learn more about this topic)
Deepfakes (view this video here to learn more about this topic)
Invasion of Privacy
Mental Health Issues (including anxiety and depression)
Self-Esteem and Insecurity Issues
And extreme cases leading to potential eating disorders
What can we do?
The topic of social media and keeping children safe online is not an easy one to discuss as it is extremely complex, however, it is necessary. We often find that most parents are simply unaware of what their children are doing online and what they have access to within these apps.
In TikTok’s Safety Parental Guide, the company itself states, “many users start their creator journey at 13... making it a critical time for teens and their families to learn about digital literacy and smart online behavior.”
Here’s a list of things you can start to do now:
Talk to your teens/children
Pay attention to what your kids are doing online
Bring awareness to others
Set up parental controls and ‘Parental Pairing”
Family Pairing allows a parent to link their TikTok account to their teens and set controls including Screen Time Management, Restricted Mode, and Direct Messages. Learn more here.
Device Level Parental Controls -
This allows you to use device-based parental controls provided by Google and Apple to block the app from an underage child's phone. Learn more here.
Restrict Built-In Apps on Home Screen
If you turn off an app or feature, the app or feature won't be deleted, it's just temporarily hidden from your Home Screen. Learn more here.
Remember, it’s important to be nonjudgmental of yourself and of others. The digital space and social media in general are still a fairly new space for many. We are constantly learning new things about how and why it's important to approach this space more intentionally; and hopefully once we know better, we can begin to do better.
We strive for accuracy and the most up-to-date information; if you have identified an error or any misinformation, please do not hesitate to contact us here. Sources:
Chief Creative Officer