KIDS as young as eight are being targeted by predators and bombarded with sexually explicit messages on a new social media app, a Sun Online investigation has found.
TikTok, which lets users create and share short videos with music and camera effects, has been branded a “magnet for paedophiles” by concerned campaigners and parents.
Once logged in with an account, users can then post videos of themselves which are broadcast to other people – any of whom can then message the person directly.
Sun Online downloaded the app and within minutes we were confronted by deeply disturbing and sexually suggestive comments underneath videos of young schoolchildren innocently singing or dancing.
We saw some users telling young girls to “show me those legs baby come on” and describing them as “sexy”, “hot”, “yummy” and “proper fit”.
One sick user said “I’ll risk the arrest…I don’t mind” under a video of a schoolgirl singing to the camera while another wrote “how much do you charge by the hour?”
In another video a user asked a girl to lift her skirt up while another wrote “I’d s**g”.
Horrified parents also told The Sun Online how their children had been subjected to unwanted aggressive direct messages from older men.
Chris Moralee, 38, from Bradford, said he was disgusted by what he found on the app on his ten-year-old son Denver’s phone.
He said: “His phone kept flashing up like someone had messaged. I kept seeing this same man’s name coming up.
There’s no question an app like this is a magnet for paedophiles
John Carr, child online safety expert
“The messages he received said ‘hello are you there?’, ‘stop f***ing ignoring me’, then he said ‘I will find you’, ‘where are you?’ He was sending these messages to a ten-year-old. Denver was terrified.
“The person had a picture. I didn’t report it to police because I deleted the app, I wish I had told the police but I was keen to just get rid of it.
“I went on to my son’s phone to look at what had been sent and I looked at the content.
“He’s only ten…there must be a way for them to get parents’ permission to get on it. But there’s no way of them verifying their age.
“I had to tell him that not everyone in the world is nice and people do use these sites to send horrible messages and threaten people and stuff.”
Mr Morales revealed he has now deleted the app and his son’s school held an assembly on the dangers of social media after he alerted them.
I was horrified to have my 13-year-old daughter show me a video she came across of a man masturbating under a dancing hashtag she searched
Gran Michaela Clark, 50, from Derbyshire, was shocked when she learned her granddaughter Grace, ten, had been groomed on the site.
She told the Sun Online: “My granddaughter had been on the site for three days and then my daughter Jemma got a visit from the police asking if Grace was alright.
“The police had gone round because a guy from Canada, a paedophile hunter, had been watching this group and he’d said that Grace had been groomed on TikTok.
“She’d been entering private chats with someone who’d claimed to have known her.
It’s really, really sad. It needs highlighting to everyone out there
“He threatened to come to her house and take her if she didn’t do certain things.
“It just makes you want to scream out to people. What appears to be an innocent site where she’s making music videos and sending them to her friends is a site with nasty people on.
“Her phone is now with the police and they are examining it.
“Grace’s mum Jemma was horrified. It’s really, really sad. It needs highlighting to everyone out there.”
Another parent, who didn’t want to be named, warned: “I was horrified to have my 13-year-old daughter show me a video she came across of a man masturbating under a dancing hashtag she searched. It’s absolutely horrifying.”
PREDATORS ‘DO NOT HIDE AT ALL’
The app is currently one of the most popular in the world, ranked as 7th in the Apple charts – above Spotify, Netflix, and Snapchat.
TikTok is now available in 75 languages and was downloaded more than 104 million times on Apple’s App store during the full first half of 2018.
Despite this, experts have warned of its danger with John Carr, one of the UK’s leading experts on child online safety, saying: “There’s no question an app like this is a magnet for paedophiles.”
The French vlogger Le Roi des Rats said predators “do not hide at all”.
He said: “When a young girl dances in skimpy clothes or imitates sexy dances, you’re sure to find people in the comments either asking them to continue making these kinds of videos, saying they’re sexy or asking for their Snapchat or DM [to direct message]. Some of these girls are not even ten years old.”
WHAT IS TIKTOK?
TikTok lets users create and share short videos with music and camera effects.
It is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, founded by the entrepreneur Zhang Yiming.
The $75 billion conglomerate acquired the Musical.ly app in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, bringing millions of new users.
It is the world’s most downloaded iPhone app – with nearly 800 million downloads across the globe, according to data from mobile research firm Sensor Tower.
Facebook has taken notice of TikTok’s rising popularity, and launched a competitor app called Lasso in November last year.
Charities have also warned about the dangers of the app.
Barnardo’s issued a warning saying kids had been encouraged to engage in sexual activity online by predators in the comments section of the app.
A spokesman told the Sun Online: “The popularity of live streaming services like TikTok and Live.ly is contributing to younger and younger children needing to access specialist help after being exploited online.
“During 2017/2018 Barnardo’s child sexual exploitation services supported 19 children aged eight who had been exploited, were at risk of being exploited, or siblings of children who had been exploited.”
Andy Burrows, NSPCC’s Associate Head of Child Safety Online, told the Sun Online: “We know that a disturbing amount of children are being contacted via livestreaming apps by abusers using them as a hunting ground.
“It’s alarming how little progress has been made by social networks to combat this.
“Shockingly, a quarter of 40,000 children in our research had livestreamed with someone they have never met, and one in 20 children had been asked to take their clothes off.
A disturbing amount of children are being contacted via livestreaming apps by abusers using them as a hunting ground
Andy Burrows, NSPCC
“That’s why we are calling for social networks to be legally forced to make children’s accounts safe, and over nine out of ten parents agree.
“Sites that fail should face hefty fines if we are to tame the Wild West Web once and for all.”
The warnings came in the wake of an investigation that revealed 30 cases of child rape had been investigated by police since 2015 after victims evaded age checks on dating apps.
A Freedom of Information request also showed 60 further instances of child sex offences – including grooming, kidnapping and violent assault – through online dating services.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright described the findings as “truly shocking.”
TIKTOK SAY SAFETY IS THEIR ‘TOP PRIORITY’
Responding to the findings TikTok told the Sun Online safety on the app was their “top priority” but said it was becoming an “increasingly challenging situation”.
They admitted they couldn’t stop users lying about their age but had given TikTok a 12+ App Store rating so parents can block it from their child’s phone using device-based parental controls.
They have also introduced a number of features to give our users more control over their accounts and content, including a “digital well-being” function.
SAFETY ON TIKTOK
Can I prevent my teen from downloading TikTok?
TikTok have given the app a 12+ store rating which allows parents to use device-based parental controls to block apps from an underage child’s phone.
Please see the Apple App Store or Google Play Store instructions for more on parental controls and how to enable them.
How can my teen control who sees their videos and sends them messages?
Users can control who can see their uploaded content, follow them, and send them messages by making their account private. With a private account, users can approve or deny followers and restrict their uploaded content and incoming messages to followers only.
If a user has a public profile, anyone signed into the TikTok app can view that user’s public videos. However, only approved followers can send that user a message.
Whether users choose to have a public or a private account, they can always:
Even with a private account, profile information – including profile photo, username, and bio – will be visible to all users.
How can my teen report inappropriate content or behavior?
If you or your teen sees something that might violate the app’s Terms of Service, it can be reported to TikTok’s moderation team.
Users can report a specific video, user or comment within the app itself.
Furthermore, your teen can block another user from being able to view their content or send them messages.
A spokesperson said: “Promoting a safe and positive app experience is our top priority and we have a number of protective measures in place to protect against misuse.
“Unfortunately, these protections aren’t always perfect, as seen in these examples.
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“However, we are committed to improving and enhancing our protective measures, and we use learnings like these to continually hone our moderation efforts and filters.
“As always, we also encourage users to report any inappropriate content or usage through our in-app reporting options in order to help us maintain an appropriate and positive app environment.”
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