How Predators Use TikTok to Interact With Kids
You may have heard the recent news about how TikTok is dealing with a predator problem. Unfortunately, this problem isn’t new — it was happening on the platform since the beginning when TikTok was still called Musical.ly. Even then, a father recounted how adults were soliciting his 7-year-old daughter for naked pictures. So what can concerned parents do about this issue?
Back in March, we gave parents a crash course on what parents need to know about TikTok, but in this post, we dive into exactly how predators can use the video-sharing app to start conversations and strike up relationships with children. The more you talk to your kids about potentially dangerous situations, the better prepared they’ll be if they encounter them.
Using Flattery to Exploit Young Users
TikTok is a platform that encourages performance, and many of its users are excited to showcase their talents. That can make it easy for predators to use flattery and compliments as a way into kids’ lives, making them feel special while putting them at ease. The excitement of getting a new follower can make them overlook the inappropriateness of the situation — which can be dangerous.
Much like their peers on YouTube, kids with TikTok channels often are trying to gain as many followers as possible. In fact, some of the most famous TikTok users have followers in the millions. These aren’t celebrities, either, but normal teens who have managed to turn their TikTok videos into viral phenomena. Of course, not every kid on TikTok is seeking to become a celebrity. And TikTok isn’t the only platform that predators use to exploit kids’ vulnerabilities — it can happen on any platform that facilitates their goals, sometimes with devastating consequences.
But regardless of the platform, people do enjoy getting likes and comments from friends — and even strangers. This sort of validation is common across social media, but with TikTok, the comments are often centered around one’s singing ability or physical appearance, making compliments seem extra special. That makes it easier for predators to exploit kids who are eager to impress their online audience.
How Predators Use the “For You” Feature
The algorithms used by companies like TikTok gather and suggest content similar to what users have already viewed. This helps keep users on the app longer, interacting with more and more content. But it can be used for nefarious purposes, too — if someone is interested in young girls lipsyncing to Beyoncé videos, it will make sure they see more videos like them. Pedophiles take full advantage of this feature, using it to curate an ever-growing collection of their favorite young singers. Parents who are concerned about their children’s videos showing up among the public “For You” recommendations can instruct them to turn off this feature. This way, the videos they create won’t show up as suggestions for other users to watch.
Splicing Videos With the Duet Feature
TikTok’s Duet function allows users to create videos with their friends — or with strangers — regardless of their location. This means a predator could find a video of your child singing “Tale As Old As Time” from Beauty and the Beast, record themselves singing a verse, and then create a brand-new video that features both of them singing it together. This is understandably worrisome for parents who may not even know that such a feature exists. Fortunately, you can disable Duets, so that only approved people can find your child and use the feature.
The Importance of Monitoring
Bark can monitor text chats on TikTok on Android and Amazon devices for signs that your child may be communicating with potential predators, and we’re continually working to be able to monitor TikTok on iOS. Apple has very strict rules about working with third-party apps, which is why we recommend that a child’s first phone should be an Android — they’re easier to monitor the most popular apps on.
In addition to TikTok, Bark also monitors texts, chat, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for signs of cyberbullying, suicidal ideation, adult content, and more. Technology changes just as quickly as your kid does, so it’s important to have ongoing conversations about digital citizenship and online safety — that way they’ll be better prepared if they find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. But even the best practices can’t always prevent your child from encountering an online predator. Bark will alert you when there’s anything you might need to know about so that you can step in if necessary. Sign up today for a free, one-week trial.