TikTok is a make-your-own music video app that is now the top most downloaded app in the world. It’s wildly popular among US teens and young adults who enjoy watching and creating short online videos.
The Chinese-owned TikTok app is facing a lot of uncertainty in the US after the White House called for a nationwide TikTok ban, citing the possibility of the app spying on its users and it posing a possible national security threat. The app’s owner, ByteDance, called the claimed “unfounded.” As of Sept. 22, 2020, the TikTok app was still fully operational in America while ByteDance tried to work out a deal with new US-based partners.
Watch our app guide to learn how TikTok works and how to protect your kids while they use it
TikTok released new parental controls in April 2020 that all parents should be aware of. Online predators can watch students sing and dance on the app, if parents don’t take some proactive steps to keep their kids safe.
This SmartSocial.com safety guide will help parents decide if their kids should use TikTok. Parents and educators will also learn how to make the app safer for students who are already on it.
What is the TikTok app?
- TikTok is a social media app that allows users to watch and create videos that are 15 to 60 seconds
- The app was formerly known as Musical.ly
- Lip-syncing, dancing, and acting out comedy sketches are some of the most popular types of videos on TikTok
- Built-in editing tools make it easy for users to add filters, songs, effects, and sound bites to their videos without any additional apps
- The app boasts an “endless stream” of content for users to watch, which can promote addictive behavior in students
How students interact on TikTok
- Like many social media platforms, TikTok users earn likes and comments on their posts
- TikTok incentivizes collaboration by allowing users to “duet” with each other, which encourages audience reactions
- Users can follow others on the app without posting their own content, but there is no way to browse content on the app without setting up an account
- The app offers Direct Messages. The app automatically disables this feature for younger users (effective April 30, 2020)
Where is the TikTok app available?
- Apple App Store Rating: 12+
- Google Play Rating: T (for teen)
- App Developer website: TikTok (based in China, owned by ByteDance)
TikTok app in the news
Unfortunately, there are many reports showcasing the negative impact of TikTok on teens – from predator concerns to collecting data on minors without parental consent. There are also safety and privacy concerns with the app that parents should know about.
TikTok is trying to make a deal to stay in the US
Under the terms of the proposed deal, ByteDance’s stake in the newly created TikTok Global would be handed out to the company’s current backers — which includes prominent American investors. As a result, the transaction would eventually lead to the app becoming majority-owned by American investors, according to a person with knowledge of the talks.New York Times
Politicians consider banning TikTok in the US
“Citing national security concerns, India banned TikTok [in the summer of 2020]. The US and Australia are also considering blocking the app… Politicians are worried the Chinese government could use the video app to spy on US citizens.”c|net
TikTok was secretly accessing the clipboard on users’ devices, according to Forbes
The most acute issue with this vulnerability is Apple’s universal clipboard functionality, which means that anything I copy on my Mac or iPad can be read by my iPhone, and vice versa. So, if TikTok is active on your phone while you work, the app can basically read anything and everything you copy on another device: Passwords, work documents, sensitive emails, financial information. Anything.Forbes
Child predators use the app, according to investigators
Video-sharing app TikTok is failing to suspend the accounts of people sending sexual messages to teenagers and children, a BBC investigation has found. Hundreds of sexually explicit comments have been found on videos posted by children as young as nine.
The app is innocent enough, but there are reportedly online predators who use these apps to lure children. [Investigations into the app] found a large community of adult users on TikTok soliciting nude photos from kids. Some of those users even sent explicit videos to children.WDBJ 7 News
TikTok paid a hefty fine for collecting data on kids without parental consent
TikTok settled a case with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for $5.7 billion for collecting data on child users without parental consent, back when the app was called Musical.ly. It was the largest civil penalty the agency ever collected for a children’s data-privacy case.CBS News
TikTok’s content moderation methods have come under fire
The Intercept reports that [a] Brazilian teen’s livestream video [of his own suicide] remained up on TikTok for more than an hour and a half, and received nearly 500 comments and 15 complaints, before it was taken down from the platform. Once people in TikTok’s Brazil office became aware of the death, they took steps to mitigate fallout for hours before contacting local authorities.Business Insider
TikTok says it attempts to remove content created by kids under 13
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate ByteDance Inc., has worked to broaden its appeal to adults, which it believes is critical to its growth and survival. It has also been trying to boot younger children off the app, and is required to take offline all videos made by children under 13 under a settlement it reached [in 2019] with the Federal Trade Commission.The Wall Street Journal
Why should parents care?
- TikTok had 800 million monthly active users in April 2020, according to DataReportal.com
- 41% of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24, according to GlobalWebIndex.com
- Experts say it’s easy for students to come across mature content or triggering content that could promote self harm or eating disorders
- TikTok challenges can range from funny and innocent to dangerous or illegal
- Students can find ways to prevent content from getting flagged and to bypass TikTok’s content filters by using creative hashtags and purposely spelling words wrong
- Some TikTok cyberbullies are making “Cringe Compilations” on YouTube. They edit together TikTok videos that they deem cringe-worthy. Some Cringe Compilations have gone viral with millions of views
Mature content is all over TikTok
[An informational security officer in South Carolina] recently asked a classroom of fourth graders about how many of them use TikTok and almost a quarter of the 9-year-olds in the room raised their hands. And he said that kids can get exposed to content darker than your average, funny TikTok video, and that kids are posting and watching suggestive videos, mature discussions, violence and profanity.GMA
Kids spend a lot of time scrolling through TikTok
From May 2019 through February 2020, the average minutes per day kids spent on TikTok increased by 116% in the U.S. to reach 82 minutes… Kids’ average usage of TikTok hit 95 minutes per day during COVID-19 lockdowns compared with just two minutes more — 97 minutes — spent on YouTube.TechCrunch
What students think of the TikTok App (video interview)
Parents & Students: Contact us if you want to be on one of our video interviews.
Learn to use TikTok’s parental controls
Are these restrictions completely foolproof? No. Nothing truly is. Managed profiles can even disconnect themselves from Family Pairing (you’ll be notified when they do). But giving parents the ability to manage their teens’ accounts is a big step towards making TikTok a safer place where everyone can have some fun without worrying about inappropriate or predatory behavior.Forbes
How to make a TikTok account private:
- Go to your Profile tab
- Tap the Settings icon in the top right corner
- Tap Privacy and Safety
- Turn on Private account
- Even on a private account, profile information (including profile photo, username, and bio) will be visible to all users
Parents must create their own TikTok account to use TikTok’s Family Pairing
- Once your (parent) TikTok account is set up, you must link it to your student’s account:
- Open TikTok on your student’s phone and click the profile icon in the bottom right. Click the menu button in the top right corner. Scroll down to select Digital Wellbeing. Click Family Pairing and select the Teen button
- Open TikTok on your phone and go to the same screen. Click on Parent
- Use your teen’s phone to scan the QR code on your device
- Go to the next screen and click Link Accounts
TikTok’s Family Pairing feature controls include:
- Screen Time Management: Parents can set limits for how long students can spend on TikTok each day. Students can also watch short videos, that appear in the app, to encourage them to balance their screen time with offline activities
- Restricted Mode: Parents can filter mature content. Also, set up passwords to lock the settings.
- Direct Messages: Parents can turn off direct messaging completely or limit who their students can message. The app automatically disables Direct Messages for registered users under the age of 16 (effective April 30, 2020)
What else can parents do?
- Learn how to block individual users, report physical danger, and more here
- Before giving your child access to TikTok, download it, spend some time using it, then determine if it’s safe for your family
- Teach your children to come talk to you, or a trusted adult, if they are ever contacted by a stranger on social media. Remind them to never respond to a stranger’s message, befriend them, or share personal info
- Ensure that your student is only TikTok friends with people they know in real life (and can verify they are actually who they say they are on social media)
- Remind your children that their online activity, even under a fake username, can impact their reputation
- Become a SmartSocial VIP (Very Informed Parent) Member and take our TikTok workshops
Stay involved by letting your kids teach you about TikTok, like Reese Witherspoon
Teens can have a ton of fun expressing their creativity on TikTok. The videos your kids are watching or creating might be harmless, but due to widely reported safety and security dangers, it’s important for parents to be aware of exactly what their kids are doing on TikTok.