It’s the biggest online phenomenon of the year - possibly of any year. It’s also been plagued with controversy over explicit content and privacy issues.
With 689 million subscribers worldwide - and a massive skew to young people - chances are good that your child has gone on TikTok, whether on their own device or a friend’s.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is TikTok?
Simply put, TikTok is a free social media platform where users watch, create and share videos.
So what’s the big deal?
Much of TikTok is just good fun, ranging from silly lip-synched songs and dances to housework hacks. But there is plenty of explicit content on offer as well.
In this sense, there are actually many TikToks, and there is no way of knowing exactly what your child’s experience will be like. That’s built-in to the random nature of the TikTok algorithm, although the app does give users some control over the kind of content they’ll be viewing.
Be aware that there’s an emphasis on popular music - and unfortunately that means lyrics that feature obscene language and sexual themes. Dancing is often suggestive.
Advertising that targets kids is another concern.
There are actually many TikToks, and there is no way of knowing exactly what your child’s experience will be like.
So is privacy. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, based in China, recently fixed a bug that allowed it to access user’s clipboards every three seconds - even when they weren’t using the app. ByteDance has also been found to illegally store personal data from under-13s.
Finally, and most concerning of all, predators have flocked to the app to view and/or target young users.
Should I worry about “challenges”?
Most of them are simply ideas or routines that go viral, whether songs, activities or dances. Some are spontaneous. Many are masterminded by brands, artists or influencers - which is to say, they are forms of advertising.
Some TikTok challenges, however, are downright dangerous, and are attempts to lure kids into impulsive and dangerous acts of daredevilry. And yes, children have not only been harmed, they have been killed.
What is the age restriction?
To use the full app, the age rating is 13+ but under-18s need parental approval - which kids easily find workarounds for. In the US, under-13s can access a kid-friendly area with extra safety and privacy protections, where all the content is curated and clean and no commenting, searching or posting is allowed. Australian children don’t have access to this feature.
How can I be sure my kids are using TikTok safely?
The only fail-safe way to keep them safe is to participate - and that means watching with them, and helping them create videos.
Make sure their accounts are set to “private.” Here’s how:
Finally, consider sharing videos off-app (via email or text, for example) to maintain better control over who sees them. Kids can then perform to their heart’s content for friends and family - not a network of random strangers.
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