Kids spend hours a day online and it is indisputable that the childhood experience has become very digitally driven. Smartphones have become mainstream, providing children with access to online apps and experiences at their fingertips. More and more, children interact online with one another and the world. This means that the online environment needs to be monitored for safety, just as parents and educators would ensure the safety of parks and playgrounds where children gather.
Ensuring online safety is a challenging endeavor, because technology is constantly changing. Online predators continue to evolve ways they target children. Adults have to stay on top of learning about new platforms, and understanding the unique dangers each one may pose. Luckily, there are a number of best practices and strategies that can be utilized to keep kids safe online, and a wealth of organizations whose mission it is to protect kids from cyber dangers. Public records databases can be used to verify identities of people interacting online with kids, security tips can be shared with children on a consistent basis, and phone and computer settings can help provide automated controls of what a child can access online.
Online Safety Case Study: Tik Tok
To explore online safety for children, it makes sense to examine one of the most popular apps with young people today: TikTok. TikTok is a platform that allows users to share videos, usually involving music. Formerly known and Musical.ly, Tik Tok is one of the hottest apps today. Used mostly by young people, it allows users to post short music videos, usually at or under 15 seconds in length. Posted videos can be shared, and have gone viral. There are also TikTok challenges, where users can develop and share a video that fits a certain criteria defined in the challenge. In addition to being a video and music sharing app, TikTok is also a social network as it allows users to interact.
TikTok Online Safety
Is the app dangerous for children?
Like all social networking apps, TikTok can be dangerous, but a lot depends on the privacy settings selected. One important thing to note is that kids can watch TikTok videos without creating an account. This is a great way to protect kids that want to experience the app without compromising their privacy.
There have been situations of adults reaching out to kids on TikTok. Such situations clearly pose danger to kids, and it is important to teach kids not to share any personal information and keep identifying items out of videos. Users have access to normal privacy settings, but there are no parental controls.
Public vs. Private Accounts
The draw of TikTok for young people is the attention they can get on the app if they share videos. To share videos, they do need to open an account, and they can set it to be private or public. Public accounts pose a lot more danger, as the videos and personal information shared become viewable to the masses. Public accounts are often preferred by kids that are looking to get famous, get a lot of views on their videos or are hoping their videos will go viral. In this way, TikTok exploits the natural need that teenagers and young adults to be seen and accepted by allowing them to share their videos with the masses, some of whom may not be safe contacts for users to have.
Monitoring Kids’ TikTok Use
Kids have to be thirteen to sign up on TikTok, and the app asks for their date of birth. If your child sets up an account, bear in mind that it defaults to “Public”. The very first thing parents should do is ensure that the account is made private, and discuss with their child how to vet who can follow them on the app, and who cannot. While it is tempting for kids to connect with strangers that appreciate their videos, it is important to advise them of the following best practices:
- Allow people that you know in real life to follow you, do not allow strangers to
- If you are contacted by a friend of a friend with a follow request, check with your mutual friend to ensure this is a person they trust
- Beware of fraudulent accounts that do not have much content – they may be on the platform to target young users
- Never share your address, personal information or agree to meet a stranger from TikTok in real life
- Assess who is accessing your videos and monitor for suspicious activities
Audit Your Kids’ Friends List and Usage
To fully protect your kids on TikTok, you must have an opportunity to audit their use. Set up a regular time to have your child walk you through who they are following and who is following them. Ask him / her how they know each person. Click into their friends’ videos to get an idea about whether the content being shared is appropriate. Adjust follow settings as needed. Have access to your child’s account information so you can log in and assess their use at any time. Check messages they are receiving on a regular basis.
Cyberbullying on TikTok
Another very important safety consideration on TikTok is cyberbullying. TikTok uses hashtags and has had cases where damaging hashtags are posted on users’ videos. Some of these even encourage users to harm themselves. It is important for parents to be aware of trending bullying hashtags, scan their children’s accounts for these, and have an ongoing conversation with young people about not engaging with people that would post bullying hashtags or cruel comments. Users can also report cyberbullying in an effort to get users that bully barred from using TikTok.
TikTok is just one example of online danger. It is key that parents take an active and curious approach to monitoring each platform or app their child uses. Through ongoing conversation and monitoring, parents can protect their children from online dangers now, while building in them the skills needed to navigate dangers in technology at every stage of life.
About the Author
Ben is a Web Operations Executive at InfoTracer who takes a wide view from the whole system. He authors guides on entire security posture, both physical and cyber and enjoys sharing the best practices.