explainer

What on earth is Tiktok? The social media app everyone under 20 seems to be on.

If you’re the parent of a person under 20 who spends time online, chances are you’ve heard of something called ‘TikTok’.

If so, you’re probably generally aware that it’s an app which involves your child signing up and having their own account, and it seems to be about watching short videos of strangers doing… stuff.

Yep, another avenue for watching more internet content that makes precisely no sense to us. But, of course, that’s the entire point.

For parents who want to understand more about TikTok, and do their due diligence about its appropriateness for children, here’s an explainer.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is an app made for creating and sharing 15-second video content. Its target market is Generation Z, especially anyone under 20.

And anyone who is too cool for old-school Facebook or Instagram.

TikTok was launched in April 2014 as Musical.ly, which you may recall was a lip-syncing app. It became TikTok in August 2018.

TikTok now has 500 million users worldwide, making it one of the most popular social media apps. Its parent company, ByteDance, has surpassed Uber in being the world’s most successful start-up, and is now valued at over $100 billion.

What does TikTok do?

Here’s all you need to know as a parent: it’s about creating videos of kids doing anything they want, using filters, songs, and audio. There’s lots of ways to ‘play’ when creating the content, which is one of the reasons why users find it so fun.

The content on TikTok is known for being generally comic and quirky, which makes it entertaining to young minds.

The platform also makes it easy to consume a lot of content quickly; which is why it’s bingeable, and highly-addictive.

Users can like and comment on videos, which of course means that TikTok has its own set of influencers – known as ‘Musers’.

Top TikTok influencers, the Dobre twins, boast 17.1 million fans.

TikTok is now one of the most powerful apps for celebrities and artists, too, such as Cardi B, Jimmy Fallon and Amy Schumer.

You may have heard of the very popular song called Old Town Road by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. The song went viral via a meme on TikTok, and almost immediately hit the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

Is TikTok safe for children?

The age minimum for users to have an account is 13 – but TikTok has been criticised for not diligently enforcing the limit, so there have been cases of kids as young as nine being on it.

Common Sense Media recommends that children don’t use TikTok until 16, but if they do, those under 13 be should supervised. One way to do that is to share an account with a child, using a parent’s name and email, so they can control access and privacy settings.

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TikTok also has a restriction mode, which can filter some content and search words. TikTok itself won’t let you search ‘sex’ or ‘porn’.

It’s important to note that the public can see TikTok videos without signing up; they just can’t like, comment or share.

Parents may find that TikTok is highly-addictive for children, because the content is short, very often funny, plentiful, and always new.

As with any sort of social media, TikTok is susceptible to fake accounts, and predators seeking to take advantage of others, including children.

The app has attracted some criticism for this subculture. In December last year, Vice reported that there is a “vibrant community of users on TikTok who appear to be soliciting explicit images of boys and girls, and some young users have complained on the platform about other people repeatedly asking them for nudes.”

TikTok responded by saying, “Such behaviour is not only abhorrent, it is prohibited on TikTok.

“TikTok doesn’t permit images or videos to be sent in comments or messages, and users can make their account private, block another user, report an account or content, and disable the ability to receive messages.

“In addition, our moderation team removes inappropriate content and terminates accounts that violate our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.”

But these measures have not been enough for some.

In April this year, India asked Google and Apple to remove TikTok from their respective app stores, stating concern that it was “encouraging pornography”, and made access to children by predators too easy.

In July 2018, Indonesia banned the app., forcing TikTok to immediately employ more Indonesian moderators, after which the ban was lifted.

Speaking to your kids about TikTok.

Naturally, it’s every parent’s right to monitor their child’s social media usage as they see fit. But if the choice is made to permit TikTok usage, it’s important that we remain engaged with the content being accessed.

Julie Inman Grant, Australian eSafety Commissioner, recently tweeted:

“Teaching parents how to enable parental controls is but one basic strategy because we cannot just “set & forget”, particularly in those early years.

“We have to be engaged in their online lives, as we are their everyday lives”.

If we talk to our children about cyber safety, being aware of their online footprint and cautious about whom they engage with, social media such as TikTok is more likely to be experienced as it was intended: as harmless fun.


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Tags: explainer , news-3 , parenting-2 , screen-time
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