Like many bored out of their mind during quarantine, I downloaded TikTok out of curiosity. I didn’t think I’d like it because I’m in my mid-twenties, but I enjoy the app. Unfortunately, it also didn’t take me long to figure out why the app is often considered a hunting ground for child sex predators.
Some disturbing trends and features on TikTok have made it easier for predators to prey on vulnerable minors, but there are also ways for kids to safely enjoy the app.
How Predators Use TikTok
TikTok isn’t just about sharing fun videos. You can also “duet” with another user by posting a video reaction to theirs, comment on another user’s videos, and message other users. Predators take advantage of these features.
Liz W., an 18-year-old activist trying to stop this problem, talked about the disadvantages of some of these features with Buzzfeed News. She said, “If some creepy guy just keeps liking videos of younger girls doing similar audios or soundtracks or hashtags, those are going to keep coming up on his ‘For You’ page, so it's easier for him to find more victims. And I think that's what makes it so easy for predators to come on it and victimize young children.”
If some creepy guy keeps liking videos of younger girls doing similar audios, soundtracks, or hashtags, those are going to keep coming up on his ‘For You’ page.
Liz is right, and an Alabama mother discovered that her 11-year-old daughter was being groomed by a pedophile who was messaging her. She said, “I discovered it when my daughter was asleep. I was absolutely floored. I was amazed, I was shocked, I was hurt, just all kinds of emotions I had about it. I saw a video that was deleted, and my child was saying ‘are you hurting yourself?’ so this was something very graphic that a parent wouldn’t want their child to be exposed to. There were other text messages trying to let her know ‘you’re beautiful,’ and ‘you’re this, you’re that,’ and just telling them things that, trying to comfort the child. I think we should let our children know the bad guy doesn’t always look bad and we have to be aware they don’t always look scary or sound so scary.”
The mother discussed the incident with her daughter and reached out to local law enforcement. Her daughter was unharmed and took it as a lesson to be careful when it comes to interacting with strangers online. Unfortunately, she’s far from the only one who has experienced this.
The Sexualization of Minors
Many teens who download TikTok want to make it big. They want to be like Charli D’Amelio, the 15-year-old dancer who, at 44 million followers, is the most popular user on the app. However, her page is completely harmless. The majority of her videos are her dancing fully clothed with an occasional crop top or short shorts, but that’s completely normal for a girl her age. Despite her fast rise to fame, she appears to have a good head on her shoulders and treats her fans with kindness. She’s the kind of girl I would’ve wanted to befriend when I was a teenager. I’d argue she’s a really good role model for teens, but many teens don’t follow her direction and end up oversexualizing themselves, leaving themselves vulnerable to predators.
I want to make it clear that I am not implying that a teenage girl who posts suggestive videos on TikTok or any child, in general, is responsible for being targeted by a pedophile. A pedophile is an adult who knows better but decides to attack children for their own perverted sexual fantasies. The fault is one hundred percent on the pedophile. But pedophiles aside, the trend of underaged girls sexualizing themselves to get views on TikTok is nothing short of disturbing.
TikTok is a Chinese-owned app, and the age of consent is only 14 in China.
Blogger Mindy Sherman took matters into her own hands and was disturbed by the content she discovered in her 11-year-old daughter’s TikTok feed. She wrote, “Barely any of you are watching your child’s videos or videos they are in with their friends. Would you be surprised to know that your daughter is dancing and mouthing words to songs with the N word, P word, F word, every awful word and phrase you can imagine? Would you be horrified if your daughter posted one about being a slut and getting f&$ked in the p$&@y? That’s just the beginning of what I’ve seen.”
TikTok has attempted to protect its users from predators and have failed. It’s important to remember that TikTok is a Chinese-owned app and that the age of consent is only 14 in China. This could be one reason as to why it’s the perfect breeding ground for predators and why the company has failed to protect its users. However, there are still ways to have fun on TikTok and be safe.
There are plenty of ways parents and kids can make TikTok a fun and safe online space. The easiest way is to practice the simple “stranger danger” rules we learned in elementary school. It’s important for parents to make sure that their kids set their profile to private and to only accept followers whom they know in real life. Encourage kids to block and report anyone who comes across as creepy or suspicious. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Make sure kids set their profile to private and only accept followers whom they know in real life.
I would also encourage parents to tell their kids not to post anything they wouldn’t want the world to see. Even if it’s on a private account, no kid should be posting inappropriate or graphic content on TikTok. Kids should also be open with their parents about their experiences on the app, making sure that they’re being safe while having fun.
More kids and teens are joining TikTok every day, and predators are still looking for minors to exploit on the app. The trends of sexualizing minors and predators trying to find victims on the app are very disturbing, but there are also plenty of fun ways to be safe on TikTok by practicing stranger danger.
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