The Wall Street Journal recently conducted an elaborate investigation to gauge what kind of content minor users are being led to by the social media app TikTok’s algorithms.
The newspaper found that even when accounts were identified as belonging to minors, they could still be exposed to videos containing sexual content or drug use that popped up in decoy accounts.
For the piece “How TikTok Serves Up Sex and Drug Videos to Minors,” the Journal created several bot accounts that appeared to belong to users between the ages of 13 and 15 and found that these accounts were still being “guided” towards content involving sexual roleplay, drug use, and other explicit content.
“TikTok served one account registered as a 13-year-old at least 569 videos about drug use, references to cocaine and meth addiction, and promotional videos for online sales of drug products and paraphernalia. Hundreds of similar videos appeared in the feeds of the Journal’s other minor accounts,” the article reads, as reported by The Christian Post.
What’s more, the app “also showed the Journal’s teenage users more than 100 videos from accounts recommending paid pornography sites and sex shops.”
Thousands of other videos came from creators that had labeled their content as “for adults only.”
The Journal shared over 900 videos with TikTok administrators and while 100 had already been shared by this time, it was unclear if the creator had removed them or TikTok had.
Roughly 255 of those videos were removed after they shared it with the social media platform’s administrators, over a dozen of which portrayed sexual roleplay situations in which adults portrayed an adult-child “caregiver” relationship.
The report stated that as the newspaper had previously discovered, TikTok only uses the length of time that a user looks at any given post to determine what type of content to expose them to.
“Through that one powerful signal, TikTok can learn your most hidden interests and emotions, and drive users of any age deep into rabbit holes of content—in which feeds are heavily dominated by videos about a specific topic or theme. It’s an experience that other social-media companies like YouTube have struggled to stop,” the report read.
The Chinese-owned platform, which was nearly banned by former President Donald Trump for its parent company’s ties to Beijing, has recently taken some steps to promote a “safe and age-appropriate experience for teens,” as a spokesperson told the Journal.
In 2020, the platform was on the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s “Dirty Dozen” list of entities it believed was profiting from online sexual exploitation. Following these new measures, TikTok was removed from the list, but it is still included on the advocacy group’s “Watch List.”
Either way, we would strongly recommend you avoid allowing your child to use TikTok at all — you cannot be too careful in this age of easily accessible explicit content.
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