Opinion | TikTok: time to use parental controls

By Josh Beylinson, Columnist

TikTok, an app that was practically unheard of until fairly recently, is now one of the most popular apps among minors. Downloads in the United States have numbered around 80 million since August, making it the most downloaded app of last September, surpassing both YouTube and Facebook.

Despite this mass success, the app has faced numerous problems. Many parents are not aware their children use TikTok or that the app has a reputation of predators using the app to target children. TikTok is a very new social media platform and can pose a legitimate danger for minors, so parents should be more vigilant with the sort of social media their children use.

The massively popular app is only a couple years old and was created by the Chinese company ByteDance. ByteDance purchased teen karaoke app Musical.ly in 2017 and absorbed it into TikTok, which is modeled after Douyin, a popular app ByteDance created for the Chinese market. All accounts on Musical.ly were brought over to TikTok and many new users began flooding the app as well, thanks to an aggressive ad campaign on YouTube.

The app functions by letting its users create short videos, which usually involve kids lip-synching to popular songs. Many users dance to the songs, while some make short comedy skits on the app as well. TikTok also allows its users to make a duet, where a user films a video alongside another video and the two videos appear on the same screen, often without the first video-maker’s permission. Another feature similar to this is the react feature, where users film their reactions to a video and then are able to place their filmed reaction in a small video that is movable around the screen.

Many compilations of TikTok videos exist on YouTube and many popular YouTubers like PewDiePie post videos reacting to these compilations, as many feature absurd, unintentionally funny or satirical content making fun of popular trends on the app.

Despite the success, the app has faced an alarmingly large amount of allegations of pedophilia. A video on YouTube by j aubrey with 3.5 million views shows a popular older user, TheBudday, contacting numerous underage girls on the app — sending suggestive videos, graphic photos and messages, clearly trying to initiate some sort of sexual relationship. He was featured in many advertisements by the app, which shows that even the most popular users aren’t immune to these kind of actions. While his account was finally banned on the app, it is unknown if he faced legal consequences.

This is just one example of this sort of issue on the app, as there are many other allegations of individuals on TikTok committing similar inappropriate acts. TikTok is an app designed for underaged kids and many older users seem to take advantage of this fact to prey on kids with accounts. TikTok is used almost exclusively by young teenagers and kids, which should prompt an especially vigorous response from parents.

To combat this awful activity on the app, parents should be more proactive about protecting their kids from legitimate dangers on social media. And while parents have been saying for years to not talk to strangers online, many minors are simply too young or naive to realize when a stranger online is normal or has legitimate bad intentions.

According to PureSight, a software company specializing in online parental control, “One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet says they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web.”

Parents should treat social media as a part of their child’s social life, and just like in real life, warn their children to stay away from certain friends who could be a bad influence to them online.

There are many measures a parent can take to protect their children if they are TikTok users, besides outright preventing them from using the app. TikTok has recently increased a lot of its safety features for its users who are under 18, so a parent should first make sure their child is registered as a minor. The minimum age to use the app is 13, but if children are of age to use the app, there are many safety features available.

The app allows users to set their videos to private so that only approved followers can view their videos. There is also private messaging, which only allows friends on the app to directly message other users. TikTok also offers many other parental controls that allow children to use the app in a safer way, such as setting a two-hour time limit for the app, which can be controlled through a password.

Inappropriate videos have banners on them as warnings for minors, as well. Parents are also able to share accounts with their children to monitor the content their kids are watching, though there’s no way to block certain content on the app besides blocking certain search terms.

TikTok has done a lot recently to make the app safer for minors, though parents should definitely do the research first to decide if the app is safe for their child and set the appropriate parental controls.

While limiting a child’s access to social media will certainly provoke protest and complaining, in the long run, it is worth it and protects children from being taken advantage of.