TikTok is a make-your-own music video app that is now one of the top most downloaded apps in the world. It’s wildly popular among US teens and young adults who enjoy creating short lip-sync videos to share on the popular social media platform. Parents should know there are lots of safety and privacy concerns with TikTok. If your teens are singing and dancing to their favorite songs on TikTok, predators could be watching.
There are also concerns about the app collecting data on kids without parental consent. It’s a good idea to find out if your kids are already on the app, like actress Reese Witherspoon recently did with her own son in this viral video. If your kids are on TikTok, we highly recommend closely monitoring what they are posting and exactly who they are connecting with.
Watch our TikTok App Parent Guide as a video:
What is the TikTok app?
- TikTok is a social media app that allows users to film videos that are 15 seconds or less
- 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 edit their videos without any additional apps
- Similar to Snapchat, or Instagram Stories, TikTok users can add filters to their videos
- Like most social media platforms, users earn likes and comments on their posts
- Songs, effects, or sound bites can be added to the videos
- 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 boasts an “endless stream” of content for users to watch which can promote addictive behavior in students
The dangers of TikTok:
Unfortunately there are several reports that discuss the dangers of TikTok, from predator concerns to collecting data on minors without parental consent. We want parents to be informed before they give their student access to this app.
An article from the BBC shows that child predators are a major problem on the app
“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.”
CBS reports that predators are using the app to lure children
“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.”
Students don’t know who is watching their videos, according to a report from ABC
“TikTok is reportedly the most downloaded free app on the Apple store in the United States. Given its popularity with kids, it can also be a target for predators. Some accounts have the option to go live to the app’s reported 500 million, meaning adults around the world can comment on your kid’s video.”
“If your kid allows someone to follow them on TikTok, that person can privately message them, and that’s where phone numbers or emails can be exchanged, which could lead to private conversations off the app.”
According to CBS, TikTok has had some issues with collecting data on child users 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.”
Why should parents care?
- This app is incredibly popular with students. According to ProductHunt.com, the TikTok app has more downloads than Snapchat, Spotify, and Gmail combined on the App Store (as of August 2018)
- In our experience, apps like TikTok are often used by predators to solicit minors because the app makes it easy for strangers to direct message children
- There are only two privacy settings on the app
- Private: only the creator can watch their videos
- Public: anyone on the app can see their videos
- By default, all accounts are public unless the privacy settings are changed
- Even if your student is private on the app, they can still see all of the public content on TikTok and experts have reported that it can be easy to come across porn
- Experts have also reported that it can be easy to come across triggering content that promotes self harm or eating disorders on the app
- In order to bypass TikTok’s content filters, students are getting creative with spelling and hashtags in order to post videos that would otherwise get flagged
- “Cringe compilations” have become a popular form of cyberbullying. TikTok users will edit together a bunch of videos that they see as cringe-worthy and post them on YouTube in an effort to make fun of the original posters. Many of these videos have gone viral and garnered millions of views on YouTube which can be incredibly damaging to tweens and teens mental health
The TikTok App in the News
Some children aren’t just interested in making videos with their friends on TikTok — they want to get a lot of likes and followers. And that can lead to bad decisions.–NBC
Parents have raised concerns about the use of social media platform TikTok, after videos of school students imitating sex acts and miming to explicit songs surfaced online.–ABC News
Kids can get exposed to content darker than your average, funny TikTok video, and kids are posting and watching suggestive videos, mature discussions, violence and profanity.–ABC 7 Chicago
Like most apps aimed at young people, TikTok is home to its fair share of creeps.–Vox
What can parents do?
- Before giving your child access to an app, download it, spend some time using it, then determine if the app is safe for your family
- There are parental controls built into the app but they should not be the only method used to protect your kids on TikTok
- Always be on the apps your students use. No monitoring app is better than having a regular digital safety conversation with your children
- 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 information with them
- Ensure that your student is only friends with people on social media who they know in real life (and can verify that 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 – especially with “cringe compilation” videos that are taken from TikTok
- If your student is experiencing unusual behavior, consider contacting a school counselor or a private therapist. We suggest that every student who might be going through a hard time should work with a therapist
Reese Witherspoon works with her son to learn about TikTok
TikTok was formerly the Musical.ly app:
In August 2018, the popular teen karaoke app Musical.ly was acquired by TikTok and shut down. All 100M Musical.ly users were transferred to the TikTok App. If your student had the Musical.ly app then it’s important to learn about TikTok.
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 issues, we have placed TikTok in the Smart Social Red Zone as an app that is not recommended for tweens and teens.