CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — TikTok is growing and it’s showing no signs of slowing down, but the app, where users can create and upload a 15-second video, is starting to show some weak points.
The Wall Street Journal conducted a study to test out the app’s feature called “for you,” and what it found should put all of us, especially parents, on alert.
The feature directs users to the type of videos they like based on the videos they watch, like and comment on.
The WSJ tested out the new feature and created dozens of fake accounts to understand what TikTok is showing young users. The fake accounts were registered as users from 13 to 15 years old.
According to this study, TikTok can quickly drive teenagers, who are one of the biggest users of the app, into a rabbit hole of videos showing sex and drugs.
One account that was registered as a 13-year-old saw 569 videos about drug use, references to cocaine and meth addiction, and promotional videos for online sales of drugs.
The Journal shared with TikTok 974 videos about drugs, pornography and other adult content that were served to the minor accounts.
A spokeswoman from TikTok says the majority didn’t violate guidelines and TikTok removed some of the videos after the Journal’s accounts viewed them.
The social media company also restricted the distribution of other videos to stop the app from recommending them to other users. It told the Wall Street Journal that no algorithm will be completely accurate at policing content.
Mark Berkman, CEO of Social Media Safety, says that response is not good enough.
“There’s a number of things that TikTok and other platforms can be doing to make sure that, particularly children users are not seeing this dangerous content,” Berkman said. “Number one, TikTok can open up its data to third party safety software, so parents at least have a choice to monitor this content … very important intervention that could be getting done that is not.”
Berkman’s company recommends three interventions for parents to think about.
The first involves having social media conversations with kids.
“We have to make sure that our children are aware of the various dangers that they can encounter on social media,” Berkman said.
Then, set social media safety rules.
The discussion should invovle “what you want your children to do every time they go onto social media to keep them safe,” Berkman said.
Finally, calibrate settings on their devices.
“You can maximize privacy settings,” Berkman said. “TikTok does have a restricted mode. Though, we would say that on that restricted mode, we’ve found all this dangerous content that The Wall Street Journal has found as well. So be aware of that.”