TikTok app safety – What parents need to know
Internet Matters Team | August 31st, 2021
We work collaboratively across industry, government and with schools to reach UK families with tools, tips and resources to help children benefit from connected technology smartly and safely.
‘Your In Control’ safety videos to promote privacy, safety and positivity to users
TikTok is a social networking app that replaced the popular Musical.ly app when it went offline in 2017. Know as Douyin in China, it gives users the ability to watch and create short clips of up to 60 seconds.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a free social media app that lets you create, share, and watch short clips. The app is popular for viral dances and celeb cameos and is a creative and fun platform for all ages to enjoy.
Currently, the app is available in 75 languages with over 1 billion active users (Jan 2021). Like Musical.ly before it, it is most popular with under 16s. It has also now become the most downloaded app of 2019.
TikTok safety guide – Get to grips with the safety tools available on the app and ways your teen can make the most of their time on the platform.SEE GUIDE
What can you find on TikTok?
Short videos up to 60 seconds of everything from popular songs to users dancing, lip-synching, performing comedy sketches, and more.https://www.youtube.com/embed/McTOIPLVGfE?rel=0Example of videos you will find on TikTok platform
What are the current trends and challenges?
TikTok trends and challenges are a popular part of the app that change often. Users can re-create content from dance challenges to memes about current events. While many are harmless and fun, there are others that need to be monitored closely.
These challenges and trends can harm a child’s physical health and mental wellbeing:
- The silhouette challenge: users create images or videos that are edited using a filter so they appear as a silhouette. Many are sexualizing themselves with this challenge. Filters can also be removed by others, so users must be careful about what they are wearing behind the camera.
- The blackout challenge: around before TikTok existed, it involves users interrupting their oxygen until they get close to losing consciousness. This challenge has lead to the recent deaths of multiple children aged 9-12.
- Back cracking challenge: a user cracks the back of their friend without any training. Medical professionals warn that this can twist and pull on the spine, resulting in long-term damage.
- Nutmeg challenge: consuming large amounts of nutmeg has been shown to affect the nervous system, potentially causing hallucinations. However, research shows it can also cause dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, dry mouth, confusion, and seizures.
- Full face wax trend: presented as a skincare routine, users cover their entire face with wax. There is risk of suffocation if the wax enters the airways. Because wax is designed to harden, once in the airways, it can only be removed surgically.
- The magnet challenge: using small magnetic balls, users pretend to have piercings on their ears, noses, and lips. More extreme versions see users swallowing these magnetic balls so that they can stick magnets on their skin and be ‘magnetic’ themselves. This has resulted in serious hospitalisation and surgery to remove these harmful magnets.
Visit TikTok Safety Centre to learn more about it’s educational video series, “You’re in Control” – foster a safe, positive environment where users are in control and can express themselves creatively.
What is the minimum age for TikTok?
13 is the minimum age according to TikTok’s terms and conditions.
How does TikTok work?
Once signed up and logged in, you can either search for popular categories, creators, or find people via your friend’s contact list, or you can create the videos yourself. But many people just use the app to follow content creators.
How to create an account
Click on the ‘person’ icon and you can choose to sign up with an email, phone number, or existing Google, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account.
Once you have selected an option, you are then asked to enter your date of birth, if it is below the age of 13, the app displays the following message: “Sorry, looks like you’re not eligible for TikTok. But thanks for checking us out!”
Your feed highlights what is going on in your community and a separate ‘For you’ feed shows tailored recommendations for you.
Why do teens love TikTok?
It is a way to express themselves and create short-form video clips to gain a following and build a community around their passions. It also features some great special effects that users can apply to their videos to make them more unique. You can also cross-post the content on other platforms (such as Instagram) to share it with more people.
What do parents say about the app?
Seeing inappropriate content
Parents have expressed concerns about the inappropriate language of some of the videos posted which may make this less suitable for younger children.
Contact from strangers
Predators seeking to connect with children is another risk that parents have said to their children. A parent review can be found on Common Sense Media.
What should parents be concerned about?
When you download the app users can see all the content without creating an accountalthough they are not able to post, like, or share anything until they’ve set up an account on the app.
You can set up your account by using your existing Google, Facebook, Instagram account, via email or phone.
By default all accounts are public so anyone on the app can see what your child shares. However, only approved followers can send them messages.
Users can like or react to a video, follow an account or send messages to each other, so there is the risk that strangers will be able to directly contact children on the app.
Children may be tempted to take risks to get more of a following or likes on a video so it’s important to talk about what they share and with who.
Need to delete your account? Go to Me>Tap …, located on the top right corner>Tap Manage account > Delete account. Follow the instructions in the app to delete your account.
TikTok has said: “Today’s announcement is about going one step further to put in place stronger proactive protections to keep younger members of our community safe.
We look forward to the feedback of our community and all of our stakeholders as we constantly improve with new features and resources to help our community manage their TikTok experience.”
Does TikTok have any safety features?
Like Facebook and Instagram, it has a digital wellbeing element (which is password protected) that alerts users who have been on the app for more than two hours. You can also turn on ‘restricted mode’ to filter out inappropriate content on the app.
You can set an account to be private so that all videos can only be seen by the creator and no one else on the platform. With a private account, you can approve or deny users and limit incoming messages to followers only.
Please note that even with a private account, your child’s profile photo, username, and bio are still visible to all users on the platform. You can manage who can comment, duet and direct message your child on the app.
TikTok users under 18 will have their accounts set to private-by-default, which means only someone who the user approves as a follower can view their videos. The change is part of a wider package of measures designed to drive higher standards of user privacy and safety. Download the updated privacy settings here.
Internet Matters CEO Carolyn Bunting adds: “The safety of children and young people online needs to be a priority for organisations across the industry.
The disabling of direct messaging on the TikTok platform for under 16s is a significant move in prioritising the safety of their young users and we are pleased to see the protection of their younger users taking precedence in their product changes.
TikTok provides fantastic opportunities to be creative and have fun, especially in these unprecedented times and it is encouraging to see them invest in a number of initiatives that help to create a safer environment for young people.”
Check out our TikTok privacy and safety parental controls to learn more.
Latest TikTok updates
As of late 2019, the following features were rolled out globally:
Live streaming: The minimum age limit to host a live stream will still remain 16.
Additionally, users wishing to use the live streaming feature will need to have a track record of creating quality content that follows TikTok’s Community Guidelines. Users who want to live stream will be required to have a certain number of fans before they can use this feature.
As of 16 April 2020, the following features have been implemented:
- Family Pairing (previously Family Safety Mode): TikTok’s new Family Safety Mode which will be rolled out globally in the next coming weeks, is an in-app feature designed for parents to help keep their kids safe whilst using TikTok.
- Changes to the virtual gifting policy: The new policy will only allow those over 18 to purchase, send or receive virtual gifts – read more here.
- You’re in Control Education series:TikTok is continuing this series to help TikTok users understand how they can filter comments, choosing a private account, restricting duets, and much more.
- Opening a Trust and Safety Hub in Dublin: The Trust and Safety Hub is designed to strengthen TikTok’s policies, technologies, and strategies.
- Voluntary Principles: Supported by Five Eyes nations globally, to counter online child exploitation. Read more here.
- Changes to Direct Messaging: Now, only those aged 16 and over will be able to send and receive Direct Messages.
As of Jan 2021, the following features have been implemented:
- New privacy settings: TikTok users under 18 will have their accounts set to private-by-default (as of Jan 2021) as mentioned above.
- Tackling fake news and misinformation:A new fact-check feature that will confirm and remove content if false (as of Feb 2021). Read more here.
- Prevention of bullying feature: Creators are now able to control what comments can be posted on their content before it goes live. In addition, users who comment will get a prompt advising them to reconsider their comment if it’s inappropriate (as of March 2021). Read more here.
- Tightening the options for commenting on videos created by those ages 13-15: Younger users can now choose between “friends” or “no one,” and the “everyone” comment setting is being removed.
- Changing Duet and Stitch settings: The broader TikTok community won’t be able to use those features with content created by people under 16, though anyone can Duet and Stitch with eligible content from users over 16. For users aged 16-17, the default setting for these features will now be set to Friends.
- Removing the ability to download videos created by those under 16: For users ages 16-17, this function will now be set to “off” by default, with the option to allow downloads of videos if a user chooses.
- Setting “suggest your account to others” to “off” by default for accounts ages 13-15.
- Bedtime block on app alerts – TikTok has announced a feature that prevents teenagers from receiving notifications past their bedtime. They will no longer send notifications after 9 pm to users 13-15 years old. But for 16 and 17 year-olds, notifications will not be sent after 10 pm.
How to report inappropriate content on the TikTok app?
You can block followers ‘ by choosing the fan you’d like to remove and selecting ‘Block’ from the menu of options.
Be sure to update the TikTok app to ensure you are kept up to date with the latest features.Parental controls
Learn how to set privacy and safety settings on the TikTok social platform to help your child have a safer experience.