The TikTok app is extremely popular with children and young people. But the app is increasingly being misused for bullying and so-called cyber grooming.
Emulate your own idols and feel like a big star for a few moments – what a trip to the mini playback show a few years ago was all you need nowadays is a smartphone. TikTok gives its users the ability to record short videos that users sing while playing back or show them while dancing. Harmless content that is often thoughtless. Although the use of the service is only permitted from the age of 13 and, according to the terms and conditions, parental permission is required for under 18s, many videos show children who are apparently much younger, reports the parent portal “schau-hin.info”.
Sexual harassment and cyberg-rooming
In the app, under relevant hashtags such as #bellydance or #bikini, for example, there are always new videos of minors who sing and dance marginally provocative to popular hits. This scenario seems to be made for what is known as cyber grooming. In this phenomenon, supposedly harmless videos on social networks are misused for other purposes. For this purpose, unknown adults first build trust in the minors via the app, and then – sometimes within a few minutes – address the topics of love or sex. They often ask the young girls and boys for more pictures or videos. Often with success. Children in particular, but also older adolescents, try out and experiment with their external image. Sometimes with their sexual attraction.
If they comply with the stranger’s requests, there is usually regular terror. The perpetrators threaten to spread the pictures further unless their victims send further pictures. It is not uncommon for the blackmailers to force the girls and boys to meet in person to attack the child.
The SOS Children’s Village researched the topic of “Sexual harassment on the Internet and cyber grooming in the worlds of 11 to 18 year olds” in cooperation with the Institute for Youth Culture Research in Vienna. Study participant Annika (18 years old) describes how this can look in individual cases with these words: “He was pushing me a bit. I was just too insecure to say no. It’s just part of my personality. The question was what happens if I say no now, because if you don’t know him now, you don’t know. ”
Abuse without physical contact
The perpetrators like to try to lure their victims to other platforms (such as chatroulette). Because there they have an even easier game because of the lack of control options, as study participant Lena (17 years old) confirmed: “Yes, yes, I’m just really afraid, I often think about it and regret a lot of things. I was just bad, I only did the bad things, sometimes masturbating with these men on Chatroulette, that would be very uncomfortable for me, I was 12, 13, I didn’t think about it. ”
As preparation for child sexual abuse, such acts are punishable, so cyber grooming is a criminal offense. No physical contact is required for this form of abuse. Parents should therefore secure evidence, for example using screenshots, and pass it on to the police if there is justified suspicion.
When asked about this topic, the TikTok creators point out that they have set up a security network that checks the content carefully. “The app has a large number of protective measures and guarantees moderation around the clock in order to reduce the possibility of improper use of the app.” Nevertheless, the provider notes that generally no system is infallible. Because of the mass of contributions to be controlled, there will continue to be black sheep.
In-app purchases and advertising
Another risk is the possibility of in-app purchases. This function is primarily used by underage users to support other users with virtual gifts. Instead of small gifts, the recipient receives money in the form of a credit at the end of the day. Apart from that, money can also be spent on other things directly in the app, such as special effects that are supposed to spice up the videos.
Given the possibility of falling into the trap financially, it is extremely important to educate children. Parents should familiarize them with the different forms of advertising and educate them about the various payment processes. Ideally, children in particular, but sometimes also young users, should only make downloads and purchases in consultation with their parents.
Set up app profile together
In order to give their own children more security when using it, parents are recommended to set up the app together with the child. Clear agreements can be made and rules can be set for posting and chatting with TikTok.
This is the only way to exert influence and to clarify certain misconduct and dangers. If the profile is set up under supervision, parents are ready to help if questions or uncertainties arise. In this way, children perceive them as contact persons for technical questions from the start. With this approach, it can be jointly discussed and decided which profile settings make sense or, for example, which type of videos can be published in which form.
Establish rules of conduct
Setting clear rules is the basis for teaching children how to use the app responsibly. Post wisely! The first thing young adolescents should learn is to be careful about your own posts. It is equally important for them to know how to behave correctly if they receive inappropriate comments or messages. Here the children should be made aware that they can turn to their parents at any time if they have problems. Another possibility that parents can point out is to block and report other users.
Anyone can report posts and users that are perceived as inappropriate using a function within the app. If children receive messages or comments on TikTok that unsettle them, scare them or that do not come from their peers, we recommend that you use the reporting function. However, blocked users will not be prevented from registering again. Despite misconduct, you can create a new profile without any conditions – even with a similar profile name.
Protection of privacy and personal data
Especially with children and adolescents, who often do not think “about later”, it is particularly important to carefully consider which content they are allowed to publish and which they should generally refrain from. The internet never forgets. In the supposedly safe community of social networks, teenagers in particular post personal information or private contributions all too quickly and innocently.
The child’s profile can also be set to private in the app settings. This seems like good advice, especially when you start using the app. This means that only those people who have previously been given permission to follow the profile can see posted posts. If only friendly users can send messages to the child or comment on their posts, the sources of danger are dramatically reduced.
If contributions are posted publicly, they can not only be seen by everyone, but also saved. Many young users are not aware of saving and the problems that may arise from it. The app itself does not (yet) have a function to save videos from other users, but the available link function can be used to download and use the videos from other websites or cloud services. All you have to do is copy the link to the video. Websites specializing in video downloads then take care of the rest.
TikTok is aimed at children
Contrary to the official information on the target group – registration is theoretically only allowed from the age of 13 – the app is optimally geared to the needs of children between ten and 13 years of age. It is noticeable how strongly TikTok targets the evolving character of children and addresses their desire for self-expression.
TECHNOLOGY BUTTON says:
Parents should familiarize themselves with the app and how their children use it. Only then do they have a chance at all to point out difficulties in relation to data protection, privacy, copyright and unsuitable content and to be able to provide further help if necessary.