‘Die in a hole’: How TikTok is harming your child
Exclusive: Behind the fun facade of the hugely popular video-sharing app TikTok is a darker undertone of bullying and predatory behaviour with cyber safety experts warning parents to be careful this school holidays.
Music videos turned into cruel memes, lyrics twisted to torment and videos made to harass are some of the ways teens are bullying each other.
It comes as the Australian Government confirmed to News Corp it is watching closely the outcomes of overseas government security reviews into the Chinese-owned platform, concerned about the collection of data of under-age users.
TikTok is aimed at children 13-years and over, and with Instagram taking away 'likes,' counts, it has become a go-to app for harnessing popularity. But experts say it has also become a platform for bullying with one mum telling News Corp her daughter was involved in an incident where the lyrics of the video were used to attack.
"They also added text to the video to personalise it," she said.
"This is year 8 bitchiness 2019 style."
Other examples, as reported to Kids Helpline, include a young teen getting "hate" on social media from friends from school over a video she made on TikTok, another who was the subject of a TikTok video, made by a girl at school, saying she should "die in a hole" and another who said girls at school made two mean TikTok videos about them.
"We urge parents, children and young people to be aware of this over the holidays, especially when young people are spending more time on devices," said Kids Helpline Acting Operations Manager, Leo Hede.
It was reported last month that the United States government announced it was opening a national security review into the Chinese-owned company, alarmed by data collection of young users, and previously the UK Government was reported as investigating how TikTok is handling data.
Minister for Cyber Safety Paul Fletcher told News Corp the Australian Government is also concerned about how the personal data of Australians, including Australian children, is being captured, analysed and shared by social media services and digital platforms.
He said draft legislation would be released shortly for public comment that will require the technology industry to do more to protect Australians' data and privacy, adding that social media and technology companies must be held accountable for the role they play in data collection and cyber bullying.
"Behaviour that is unacceptable offline should not be tolerated or enabled online," he said.
The TikTok app accounts for one-third of the views on the federal government's online watchdog's eSafety guide page; more than 10 per cent of the cyber-bullying complaints about TikTok involved impersonation accounts, which are then used to post distressing comments and pictures. Nearly 90 per cent of the TikTok complaints involved girls and the average age of the complainants was 13 but some of the complaints included children as young as nine.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said eSafety has helped more than 1,600 young people have serious cyber-bullying material removed. She said children should also be aware of posting content that could become meme fodder or embarrassing later in life.
"Talk to your child about deleting content that they no longer want people to see," she said.
"Our research shows 1 in 5 young people have experienced cyber-bullying and the effects can be devastating. It is no surprise parents are concerned."
It is not just bullying that is disturbing experts though, with cyber cop Susan McLean warning TikTok is "another avenue for predators to find potential victims."
"The predator element is very real and there have been lots of reports about flagging of paedophile accounts of TikTok and they remain there, they are not removed. They do not actively work to fix this problem. It is a common platform for predators," she said.
"What seems innocent to you is very attractive to a paedophile."
Teacher and parenting expert Michele Mitchell agreed that a huge part of the problem was young teens and tweens posting 'sexy' videos - without knowing who was watching them. She also said there were many examples of older men "reaching out" to teens and tweens.
"Because they are going through a crisis - some claim to be going through a breakdown, a terminal illness, it's their last day before going to prison," she said.
A TikTok spokeswoman said "promoting a safe and positive app experience is our top priority. TikTok is an app for users age 13 and over and there are age-gating measures at signup."
They said they do not disclose user figures but We Are Social's Suzie Shaw said TikTok is by far the social platform that has shown the most rapid growth in 2019.
"In Australia, it has quickly gained over 2.9 million monthly active users, with 69% of them being 13-24 years old. Australian users are spending as much as 50 minutes a day on the app and logging in seven times on average," she said.
Sarah Carpenter told News Corp she restricted her 13 year old son Michael's access to TikTok after running into trouble on a gaming site when she found he and his friends chatting to an older woman they didn't know.
"He asked to go on TikTok and I said no - there are too many forms of social media to keep track of," she said, adding that Michael has Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, but mostly uses Instagram.
"Sometimes you just have to be the bad guy - he understands that we have the passwords to everything and we can go in and check. It is not about spying - it is about making sure people aren't reaching out who shouldn't be."