TikTok is breeding ground for predators

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 27 Jan 2020

Popular video-sharing social networking app TikTok may pose a serious safety risk, potentially endangering millions of its young users, if not properly monitored.

Experts warn the social media app, which gives users as young as 13 the opportunity to share 60-second short videos with friends, family or the entire world, may be a breeding ground for predators.

The app,which features stickers, filters and augmented reality, was launched in 2017 by Beijing-based company ByteDance. It is available in over 150 markets and in 75 languages.

Together with its Chinese version, Douyin, TikTok has reached one billion downloads globally. In SA, it has an estimated five million users.

Last year, TikTok was announced to be the seventh most downloaded mobile app of the decade.

Videos shared on the platform range from pranks, to lip-sync videos featuring special effects, to funny sketches.

While the app is viewed by many as a platform that exposes talent and encourages youngsters to showcase their singing and dancing, more parents across the globe are expressing concerns around the inappropriate language of some of the videos posted, and sexy dance moves which may make it less suitable for younger children.

Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx, believes while there are many benefits to the app, there are dangers too.

“While the content is not typically adult in nature, young girls are using the app to flaunt their looks with the main intention of appealing to their male peers and becoming popular on the platform in general, but obviously they are also exposing themselves to predators. It is also important to note the app is not appropriate for under-13-year-olds.

“Because young users see it as their own space, they are able to explore their creativity in an environment in which they feel at home. Brands can also reach young people in a context where there is no confusion with regard to positioning as youth-oriented brands.”

Last year, the app was blamed for alarming incidentsof suicide and murder, as well as widespread under-age use, which saw the video-sharing app receive massive criticism online.

BBC research, conducted over three months, through the collection and analysis of hundreds of videos posted on TikTok, foundhundreds of sexually explicit comments on videos posted by children as young as nine.

It further revealed the video-sharing app failed to suspend the accounts of people sending sexual messages to teenagers and children.

“If parents of children under the age of 13 choose to allow it for their children, this means they have to also register on the platform to closely monitor their activities,” advices Goldstuck.

Emma Sadler, a social media legal expert, told Sunday Times the app may make it easier for predators to use flattery and compliments, as a way into the children’s lives.

“A huge user base of young children dancing to mostly sexually explicit lyrics is an absolute perfect breeding ground for sexual predators. The sexual predator in the digital age is intelligent and knows exactly where to go to find what he or she is looking for,” she warned.