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  • Junior Oliveira

TikToK: Is it dangerous for Children?

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

TikTok, TikTok, TikTok… if you have children, you might have heard about this relatively new social media platform, but if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I can say in general lines that TikTok is considered the first Generation Z social media platform to gain adoption in the four corners of the world. This application allows users to easily produce and share videos with friends, and currently TikTok has 500 million regular users, and half of them aged between 13-24. Another important fact is that this popular Chinese-owned social network has been surrounded by controversies. And the main question is: why?

FIRST POINT: At the beginning of 2019, this video sharing platform agreed to pay a $5.7 million fine to US authorities to settle charges that it illegally collected personal information from children. This corporation failed to obtain parental consent from its underage users as required by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), FTC officials said. According to said the Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons: “TikTock knew many children were using the app, but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13”.


Click here to see: The 15 potentially dangerous apps for children


Also, according to the FTC, the company required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. Consequently, as part of its agreement with the FTC, TikTok said it would no longer allow children under 13 to upload videos, leave comments, create a profile or send messages; another essential resolution, is that TikTok announced it would be launching a series of safety videos in its app focused around user privacy, safety and well-being settings.


SECOND POINT: there is a growing concern that youngsters are increasingly being targeted by sexual predators and many cybersecurity specialists have sadly named the app "an effective tool for paedophiles"; A BBC investigation found that TikTok failed to remove online predators who were sending messages with sexual content to minors. Over three months, the investigation collected hundreds of sexual comments posted on videos uploaded by children. The BBC also identified a number of users who, again approached teenagers online to post inappropriate messages on their videos. And once more the BBC came across several accounts run by children under 13.


What do the experts say? John Carr, one of the UK’s leading experts on child online safety, warned of the controversial app: “There’s no question an app like this is a magnet for paedophiles.” Andy Burrows of the NSPCC said: “The Information Commissioner’s investigation into TikTok, and whether its site design puts children at risk of grooming and abuse, is significant."


WHY DO GENERATION Z LOVE TIKTOK?

The Social Research Organisation Gen Z Insights points out that there are some considerations that explain this global trend, and these elements below may explain why TikTok has become hugely popular with children. Firstly, TikTok provides a user experience that's visual and straight-to-the-point. It appeals to Gen Zers’ eight-second attention spans as well as to their overwhelming preference for visually-oriented social media platforms. Also according to this organization, it’s truly global in its scope, a melting pot for musical audiences as various as hip-hop heads, Bollywood teenyboppers, Euro technophiles, indie rockers, country purists and K-Pop fanatics. (And in the process, it has the power to create mind-bendingly funny cultural "mash-ups” between these sub-genres.) And last but not least, this organization said that to be sure, TikTok’s become a vehicle for teen and college influencers to make a digital name for themselves (newsflash: the vast majority of memes and quick-snack content circulating through the internet nowadays was created by teenagers.) That being said, part of TikTok’s appeal is its sheer, clown-car-crash goofiness.

My considerations:

Besides Andy Burrows of the NSPCC said: “Recent research also showed us that nine out of ten children and parents also agree tech firms should have a legal responsibility to keep young users safe.” I think that we do need more control and regulations in this matter, however, some parents are not aware of the necessity to “supervise” their kids, and the fact that we have to look after our children, that's just obvious. I’m not trying to lash out at parents who don’t keep track of every move their children make on the internet; I can say that it is nearly impossible to keep track of every step. But there are so many ways for even busy mums and dads to protect their children from the dangers related to social media and digital technology in general. I found this webpage that provides some information about parental control techniques related to TikTok. But once again, honest and open conversation is the key, in terms of parental control.


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References: To see the sources of this article, please click on each link within the text.

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