Ways to prevent popular TikTok app putting kids at risk

By Karishma Dipa Time of article published Feb 1, 2020

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TikTok South Africa is insisting that it have a range of safety features to keep underage youngsters who use the app.

While the fast-growing video-sharing app was created for the use of those over the age of 13, TikTok is aware of underage users and caution parents to keep guard their children’s internet activity.

“We encourage parents to take an active role in their teens’ online experience,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Saturday Star this week.

It said that anyone who came across any inappropriate content on the app, created by Chinese-based company ByteDance, should report it to them immediately.

TikTok’s response follows widespread reports of several dangers the platform poses to youngsters, despite it being created for amusement, communication and creativity.

For all the good intentions of the hugely popular app, there are concerns that children using it could easily attract online predators, be exposed to and create inappropriate content and have their privacy infringed.

This is particularly a concern for those under the age of 13, as a recent BBC investigation discovered that TikTok failed to remove online predators who were sending sexual messages to teenagers and younger children.

During the three-month inquiry, the BBC collected hundreds of sexual comments posted on videos uploaded by youngsters, and found that while the latest digital realms where youngsters “hang out” deleted the majority of these comments, the users who posted them were able to remain on the platform, despite the social media company’s own rules against sexual content directed at children.

But TikTok SA was adamant that they were “committed to promoting a safe and positive app environment”.

“Our community guidelines reflect our values and define a common code of conduct.

“These guidelines allow our community to help maintain a safe shared space.”

TikTok SA added that while youngsters shared their lives with the world through jokes, clips, memes and videos, and some, scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to popular music, they should continue to do so safely.

“Based on these guidelines, we deploy a combination of policies, technologies, and moderation strategies to detect and review problematic content, accounts, and implement appropriate penalties,” the spokesperson said.

TikTok SA maintained that those who used their platform should be over 13 and this age of requirement was part of their terms of service.

“The app includes age-gate measures at sign-up, as well as a set 12- plus App Store rating which enables parents to simply block it from their child’s phone using device-based parental controls.”

The social media platform - which was one of the most downloaded apps last year and could soon surpass others such as Instagram and Snapchat as teenagers’ app of choice - also offers a range of other controls, tools and privacy settings.

These include their self-define comments option which enables users to filter out certain keywords from their comments section.

In addition, they have a screen time-management function which allows users to set a daily time limit.

“Once the time is used up, a password needs to be entered to continue using the app and this enables users to monitor and control how much time is spent on TikTok.”

TikTok also has a restricted mode, which is an optional account setting that will limit the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all audiences, as well as privacy settings where users can choose to set an account as private.

“With a private account, only users approved as followers can see the user’s content, but the user can also choose to make a specific video private.

“‘Private videos are visible only to the user, and one can select this setting when they originally upload the video - or by later making an uploaded video private.”

There is an option to avoid certain content from being downloaded as well as creating a block list which prevents selected individuals from viewing videos or interacting with them at all.

“Our security settings are in place to ensure you are in control of your account and that you are protected.”

Although there are no official figures to measure the penetration of TikTok in the country, it appears that South African youngsters are not exempt from its allure, as local hashtags such as #tiktoksouthafrica and #southafrica indicate that the social media service has a total of 7000 videos and 350000 South African fans.

In addition, videos categorised with the hashtag #tiktoksouthafrica already have in excess of 400 million views.

The popularity of TikTok has even seen mobile giants MTN launching customised MTN TikTok data bundles to grow the number of TikTok users in the country.

Saturday Star 

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