Thu, Dec 27, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Parents scramble to keep up as teens flock to TikTok

FLEETING FAME:With 500 million followers, the short-term video content app has aroused concern over its inappropriate content and impact on young users

AFP, PARIS

A photo taken on Dec. 14 in Paris, France, shows the logo of the TikTok smartphone app.

Photo: AFP

Millions of teenagers seeking their 15 seconds of fame are flocking to TikTok, but many of their parents are only now learning about the express-yourself video app — often to their dismay.

The social network became the most downloaded on Apple Inc’s App Store in the first half of this year, according to market analysis firm Sensor Tower, beating out titans such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

The site, owned by China’s ByteDance (北京字節跳動科技), boasted 500 million users as of June following its purchase last year of Musical.ly, which greatly expanded its reach in the US.

Analysts said it filled the void left by Vine, which introduced countless numbers of teens to the creative possibilities of ultrashort videos, but failed to find a sustainable business model.

“TikTok capitalizes on short-term creative content that other platforms don’t encourage, by their design and community,” said Brian Solis at the US tech advisory firm Altimeter.

“If there is one thing Silicon Valley can learn from Chinese app development, it’s that it is tuned in to viral-as-a-service, meaning that their most popular apps have really been about making content and personas viral and also hyper-engaged,” he said.

Yet critics say its surging popularity among young girls in particular exposes them to caustic comments and other potential abuse by their peers, while offering a choice hunting ground for sexual predators.

The app itself promises a video-sharing community that’s “raw, real and without boundaries,” and claims to be appropriate for children aged 12 and older.

Parents are not always convinced, given the numbers of young girls suggestively singing along to sexually explicit lyrics that are often degrading to women.

Such videos are the stock in trade of Halia Beamer, a 13-year-old American who has emerged as one of TikTok’s stars, chalking up more than 5 million followers.

Media reports have documented cases of users being bombarded with disturbing comments, while others have been asked for private contact details or to post provocative images.

Last summer, the Indonesian government banned the app after more than 170,000 people signed a petition saying that lip-synching in revealing outfits was not suitable for children.

It was lifted only after TikTok representatives from China flew to Jakarta and promised to hire more people to weed out inappropriate content.

The US Internet watchdog Common Sense said the combination of mature content and privacy risks means users should be at least 16.

“Because the age limit is so low, you attract a greater assortment of dangerous characters, and users lying about their age,” Solis said.

However, raising the age limit would remove millions of people from the platform and curb TikTok’s exponential growth.

In France, for example, 38 percent of youths aged 11 to 14 have a TikTok account, according to Generation Numerique, which tracks Internet usage.

Girls are by far the majority among French pre-teens, with 58 percent saying they have an account compared with just 15 percent for boys.

French police warned parents last month about the dangers, saying their teens “may be targeted by indecent sexual proposals”.

“TikTok promotes dancing and singing in particular, things which are still pretty feminine that boys don’t always dare to do,” Generation Numerique president Cyril di Palma said.

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