TikTok has undoubtedly won the hearts of millions of people, but everything that glitters isn’t gold. A lot of users, especially parents repeatedly ask the same question: Is TikTok safe to use? In this article, we’ll talk about the horrors of inappropriate content and user data security, plus two safety measures to take while using TikTok. Keep reading to find out!
Is TikTok Safe?
As far as social media platforms go, TikTok is safe but there are some caveats! The app doesn’t contain malware and it doesn’t steal its users’ personal information, but that’s not to say using TikTok doesn’t come with any risks.
Our home is safe, but we still use a home security system. In the same manner, TikTok is safe, but you should still exercise caution when using it, especially since there are ill-intentioned users who are on TikTok to take advantage of others.
6 Things You Need to Know About TikTok
If it sounds like TikTok is fertile ground for a lot of fun and a good deal of trouble, that’s because it is. That’s why we’ve listed below 5 things you need to knwo before signing up for it:
There’s a Chance of Being Targeted by Predators
TikTok allows users to contact anyone in the world, and this comes with its own host of hazards. Like any social media platform that has a direct message or commenting feature, you’re always communicating with strangers.
Jordan, a social media expert points out that the app’s “Duets” feature, which allows you to remix another user’s video and lip-synch or dance alongside them in a new clip, has been exploited by sexual predators. BuzzFeed News reported on the issue in June, noting that predators who lurk on the app often use “Duets” to send creators explicit messages.
It’s Easy to Encounter Inappropriate Content
The app is broken into two main feed sections. The default is referred to as “For You,” which is an algorithmically generated stream of videos similar to Instagram’s Explore page.
If you swipe left, you’ll see a more personally curated feed called “Following,” featuring uploads from the people you choose to follow. It’s the former public feed that’s particularly problematic.
Even if you set your account to private, you may still be exposed to sexual or violent content posted to the public feed. Ranging from overtly sexual TikToks to physically dangerous stunts that users may want to recreate, to overtly racist and discriminatory commentary, there is a wide range of concerning content on the platform.
The Conversations Around Mental Health Can be Dangerous
TikTok videos in either feed might also feature content that’s highly personal or sensitive. Not only are these videos potentially disturbing to viewers who see them in passing, but reactions to posts might encourage self-harm.
Users who admit to depression are often met with dismissive and sarcastic reactions. Some are even publicly encouraged to attempt suicide. And TikTok addiction has negative downstream effects as well. Research out of China found that depression, anxiety, and stress stemming from TikTok addiction are linked to tied to poorer working memory for teens.
And according to The Wall Street Journal, doctors in multiple countries are reporting a rise in teens developing severe physical tics, and that anxiety, depression, and TikTok could be contributing factors.
The Nature of the App Can Cause Anxiety
TikTok encourages content creation, as users can use the “Reactions” feature to respond to videos they like with their own take. While this set-up could support a child’s artistic impulses, it might also cause anxiety.
Users may get sucked into the pressure to create more and better content, and this can cause anxiety, especially if they’re not getting popular. And many chases after that popularity by taking part in challenges, which can often be dangerous. Take, for example, the Cinnamon Challenge, the Choking Game, and the Kiki Challenge.
Users Might Become Victims of Cyberbullying
Not unlike Twitter or Facebook, TikTok might lead to cyberbullying and trolling. When videos aren’t funny or successful, they’re referred to as ‘cringe’. It provides fodder for bullies to make fun of them.
People can also create multiple accounts, using aliases to target others they don’t like. Trolling is popular on TikTok, too, especially through the ‘Reactions’ feature.
According to 2022 findings from Security.org, of all the social networks, users on YouTube are the most likely to be cyberbullied at 79 percent, followed by Snapchat at 69 percent, TikTok comes in at 64 percent, and Facebook at 49 percent.
Safety Measures to Take While Using TikTok
New safety features were introduced as of August 2021. As of August 12, 2021, the app rolled out the following new safety features, especially for teens:
- Accounts for children between ages 13-15 will not receive push notifications after 9 p.m
- For teens between the ages of 16-17, push notifications will be disabled after 10 p.m
- Users between the ages 16 and 17 must actively switch their settings to enable direct messaging. Those under 16 don’t have access to direct messages.
- Users under age 16 who are trying to publish their first video will get a pop-up message to help them better understand their privacy options. They won’t be able to publish the video without selecting who will be allowed to see it.
In February 2020, TikTok announced new parental control settings released in the United Kingdom (and coming to more countries soon).
This “Family Safety Mode” lets parents link to their teenager’s TikTok account and control “Digital Wellbeing features,” according to an article published by TikTok.
Parents can manage screen time, restrict content, limit direct messages or turn off the feature completely.
“As part of our commitment to safety, the wellbeing of our users is incredibly important to us. We want people to have fun on TikTok, but it’s also important for our community to look after their wellbeing which means having a healthy relationship with online apps and services,” according to TikTok.
While waiting for this feature to launch in America, you can take the following measures to keep your children safe:
You Can Manage Your Child’s Settings in the App
While in the TikTok app and from your child’s profile, you’ll see three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, Jordan notes. Clicking on those dots will take you to the ‘Privacy and settings section of the app.
When you scroll down to the ‘Privacy and safety’ option under “Account,” you will see the option to set the child’s account to private (recommended to toggle that on), as well as allow others to find them (recommended to toggle that off).
Also, under the “Safety” section of that same screen, you have the ability to customize who can post comments, who can Duet with your child, who can react to their videos, who can send them messages, and who can view videos they liked.
You can choose from “Everyone,” “Friends,” and “Off.”
Keep in mind that your child may open the app and change these settings at any time, which is why it’s important for you to also view the ‘Digital Wellbeing’ section of the ‘Privacy and settings’ screen.
This offers a passcode-enabled screen time management system, as well as a restricted mode to limit the appearance of inappropriate content.
It’s also important to remember that the app is meant for kids who are 13 or older. “Check that your child’s TikTok account has been set up using the correct data of birth,” advises Jo O’Reilly, digital privacy advocate at ProPrivacy.
Some children might set their account up with a fake age, to appear older than they are, and this makes it more likely that they will be exposed to content that is not suitable for them.
If you are an Android or Amazon device family, you can also use Bark to monitor TikTok text chats. (The app is currently working to be able to monitor TikTok on iOS.)
Other tools that offer parental controls and monitoring services include Secure Teen and Norton Family Premier.
Laura Bedrossian, vice president, of social strategy, at integrated marketing communications agency Hot Paper Lantern, reminds people that knowledge is power. Download the app and see what it’s all about so you can understand it better and overcome the troubles that can be faced as a TikToker.