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Is Tik Tok Safe? Monitor Bullying and More

by | Mar 11, 2019 | Social Media Monitoring

**This post was updated on Nov. 20, 2020**

A new app is sweeping the social media landscape. It’s become even more popular in the App Store than Snapchat and Facebook. TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) is a video-sharing platform that allows users to create, share, and react to short videos that play over a soundtrack. It’s essentially a hub of home music videos. TikTok can be fun for everyone if it’s used in the right spirit. But is Tik Tok safe for kids?

Not everyone uses the app how it was intended. Just like other social media platforms, TikTok is quickly becoming a hotbed of abuses ranging from cyberbullying to sexploitation that parents should monitor with Bark. Here we dive into the app’s development and unpack what you need to know as a parent.

What is TikTok?

In 2014, an app called Musical.ly was introduced, which became a popular way for teens to share videos of themselves lip-syncing to their favorite songs. Three years later, Beijing-based company ByteDance acquired it. They then merged it with another app it owns — TikTok — consolidating their audiences to edge out competitors. TikTok is now a social force to be reckoned with, equipped with all-new features and spreading like a virus.

Each video lasts up to 60 seconds, and users can add a variety of filters and effects to enhance them. They also have the ability to send videos privately among friends or with the general public. Anyone can see public videos, even if they don’t have an account. The app compiles the most popular videos into a feed serving as a highlight reel for the entire global platform. Needless to say, TikTok can lead to some unsettling online activity.

Is Tik Tok Safe for Kids? The Dangers of TikTok

Users can contact anyone in the world due to the public nature of the platform. Fortunately, you can block or report others for inappropriate messages, and TikTok has recently introduced some parental controls. But even if you set your own account (or your child’s) to private, both of you may still be exposed to sexual or violent content posted to the public feed.

Cyberbullying is a major issue on TikTok. People can create multiple accounts, using aliases to target others they don’t like. Trolling is popular, too — especially through the “Reactions” feature, which allows users to respond to videos with videos of their own. At its core, TikTok encourages expression through music, but sometimes people express things that are highly personal or sensitive. Kids who admit to depression are often met with dismissive and sarcastic reactions. Some are even publicly encouraged to kill themselves.

TikTok also has a “Duets” feature, which has been exploited by sexual predators who use the platform to groom underage users. One user in particular, TheBudday, is notorious for performing suggestive duets with underage girls, sending them inappropriate reaction videos, and even attempting to meet up in real life.

Parental Controls

Fortunately, as of Nov. 17, 2020, there are several ways parents can help protect their kids as they use TikTok, including:

  • Setting your child’s profile to private
  • Turning off the search tool
  • Limiting comments on your kid’s videos
  • Restricting duets
  • Enabling comment restrictions
  • Turning off the ability for other users to see your child’s “likes”
  • Enabling content restricts with Restricted Mode
  • Setting a daily time limit
  • Limiting who kids can direct message (DMs are unavailable for children under 16)

Parents can also implement these features using a password-based system through their child’s account or with Family Pairing mode, which directly links a child’s account to a parent’s account. This mode enables parents to manage a kid’s journey through TikTok as they grow and mature, allowing parents to customize their safety settings based on individual needs. 

Keep in mind, however, that these safeguards will only work on accounts that you know about. If your child has a second TikTok account, they could use the app without any restrictions. In addition to monitoring TikTok on Android and Kindle Fire devices, Bark can help by alerting parents to new apps their kids download.

Major Fines for Privacy Violations

In February 2019, the FTC fined TikTok $5.7 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This is the largest civil penalty in a children’s privacy case in history. The law requires companies to obtain parental consent to collect the data of kids under 13, and TikTok did not do so. They also failed to notify parents of exactly how they collected children’s data or allow them to ask to have that data deleted.

Thousands of parents complained, and in response, TikTok has launched a new product designed specifically for kids under 13. All users will have to confirm their ages, and those under 13 will be directed to the app for kids. TikTok is also offering a tutorial series on privacy and security on the platform. Although these are welcome updates, this case ultimately serves as a reminder for parents to stay on their guard against data abuses.

So is Tik Tok safe for kids? On its merits, TikTok is a great way for teens to keep in touch online. But that doesn’t mean the app will always be a safe place to socialize.

About Bark

Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.

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