If you're the parent of a teen or tween, chances are you've heard of the social network TikTok. What you might not know is that it's the controversial app Musical.ly 2.0 - and brings with it its own unique concerns.
Here's what parents need to know:
What happened to Musical.ly?
Back in August, ByteDance, the Chinese internet technology company that owns TikTok, acquired Musical.ly for a cool $1 billion. The popular lip-syncing app ceased to exist, with all Musical.ly accounts becoming TikTok accounts overnight. In a statement, the company noted: "By bringing together the best of TikTok and musical.ly, TikTok now becomes the world's number one go-to destination for short-form video content creation and consumption." It currently boasts around 500 million users.
So what exactly is it?
Writing for the Atlantic, Taylor Lorenz explains: "[TikTok] is a social network with an impressive suite of video-editing tools, Snapchatlike AR filters, and features that let you sync your video to nearly any soundtrack you can think of. Lots of content on the app is lip-synching, but some of the most popular videos are of people dancing, cooking, doing Zach King–esque magic tricks, playing with pets, and re-enacting comedy skits and old Vines."
Users can create and share 15 second videos with their choice of background music, or watch other users' videos. And that's where it becomes more complex.
What are the concerns for young users?
"Other than blocked search terms, there's no way to filter out content on TikTok, so kids using the app on their own might come across age-inappropriate videos," Common Sense Media notes in their review, adding that parents should "watch for iffy content." As such, they recommend the app for users over 16 years old. (TikTok currently permits users as young as 13, and anecdotally it's popular with tweens).
Like most social networks, the app has two privacy settings: public and private. With private accounts kids need to approve who follows them, while public videos are broadcast to the world and can be commented upon and even "remixed" by other users.
But setting the account to private doesn't fix everything. "Privacy and Safety settings are still imperfect," Common Sense Media notes. "Users still can't delete accounts themselves, and if accounts aren't made Private from the start, kids could retain unwanted followers." Yes, you read that correctly. To delete an account you need to provide your phone number and request a "delete code" from the developers.
Common Sense Media also highlights the "celebrity" component of TikTok. "The app has its own celebrities, and kids may use it in hopes of becoming famous," they write.
How can parents keep kids safe?
- According to Common Sense Media, parents can and should share an account with kids under the age of 13.
- "For older kids, ask about their favourite video creators and get to know their videos (with or without your kid)," they write. Parents should also regularly take time to look at the most popular songs videos and challenges.
- There's now a Digital Well-Being setting on the app, which allows parents to set two-hour screen time limits(locked with a password), and a new Restricted Mode (also password-protected) that can help filter out inappropriate content.
- Common Sense Media also suggests that families talk about family rules for privacy and social networks. "Talk about when it's OK to share information and what kind of information should be kept private. What are your rules around your kid using TikTok. Can your kid share videos publicly or only with friends?"
Author and parenting expert Martine Oglethorpe also notes that there are in app purchases of up to $99 "so you may want to turn that feature off too!" But it's not just an unwanted bill she says we need to be aware of.
"As with all games and social networks it's important to constantly review settings as these are often changing and often without warning," Ms Oglethorpe says of TikTok. "Obviously no settings ever offer us a 100 per cent guarantee, so it is important young people are making sure they are respecting themselves and others and remain aware of the digital footprint their videos leave behind."
And while lip-syncing videos might be all the rage right now, it's unlikely they'll stay that way. "I'm not so sure I would like to see videos of my lip-syncing to pop songs as a 14-year-old as I got older so we certainly should be keeping that in mind!"Ms Oglethrope says. "Like all social networks it is not the technology and platform that in the end determines our safety and wellbeing but rather the behaviours and connections and the way we use the networks and interact with others."
Should we be signing up?
While it might be acceptable for parents to have Facebook and Instagram accounts, it's apparently far less acceptable to be on TikTok. But that doesn't mean we're not having a go, anyway. "Adults are just learning what it is and getting on there," internet personality Jack Wagner told the Atlantic. "I haven't seen one piece of content on there made by an adult that's normal and good. To be a grown adult doing a cute karaoke video on an app and trying to make it go viral is odd behavior."
Is the clock ticking on TikTok? Well, according to Tech Crunch, Facebook has big plans of luring teens away from the app and onto their own version - Lasso. Lasso is reportedly a "standalone product where users can record and share videos of themselves lip syncing or dancing to popular songs." (So yes, a carbon copy.) But given a recent survey found young users are abandoning Facebook in droves, they might have their work cut out for them.