Yesterday I was a guest in the podcast of the desired child and we talked about different media education topics . Among others about TikTok (formerly known as musical.ly).
TikTok was never really a topic at home. I once noticed the existence of the platform because on a children’s birthday party the invited children danced strangely through the apartment and acted as if they were singing. Because they filmed each other, I asked one of the children what they were doing and if they would like to upload my living room somewhere on the internet, which I wouldn’t really like. The child was scared and negated, but then he explained to me what he was doing.
When I researched TikTok, I asked myself: If there are more than 8.5 million users from Germany and more than 200 million worldwide (as of 2017) – why not my child? The answer was – let’s say – surprising:
I had forgotten that our middle child had received a Windows phone from his grandfather. 90% of the apps are not available for Windows smartphones. I.e. a large part of the discussions take place in advance. The only debate you still have is the one you have when your child doesn’t have a smartphone.
How does TikTok work?
So to get an impression of TikTok, I installed the app myself. To my astonishment you could view content without creating your own account. A good alternative if children under 13 years old are, I find. Then they can at least watch clips and that gives them the opportunity to have a say when TikTok is a topic of conversation with other children and teenagers.
If you have your own account, you can record short clips yourself. You can choose from a number of different music passages or film and series quotes. Then you record something (e.g. yourself) that matches the music or the quotes. So you create a suitable video content for the existing audio track.
You can find the videos about Hashtags. There are also regular challenges in which you can participate. The most popular videos are presented on the main page of each country.
In fact, TikTok is very entertaining. We watched singing older ladies, singing forks and talking dogs in toilet paper rolls. (In parent groups I often hear that this is bullshit and therefore it is absolutely not understandable why children and young people have to take part in such stupid things. I really wonder how these adults spent their childhood?
Did they have Kant read to them to help them fall asleep, giggle about Wittgenstein quotes with their friends and get Luhmann footnotes at school? And as adults? Have they never watched “jungle camp”, “crime scene” or “the perfect dinner” for pure entertainment? Why do things have to be meaningful and/or intellectual? Why shouldn’t everyday things also be silly and/or entertaining?)
How is TikTok financed?
The platform collects money through in-app sales, personalized advertising and the sale of advertising-relevant user data to third parties. Users can donate small amounts to their stars or buy special filters for their own videos.
What are the problems with TikTok?
In addition to excessive data collection (if you are interested in details, we recommend the article on Mobilsicher.de) and in-app purchases, you can often read about cybergrooming in connection with TikTok. This means “the targeted addressing of people on the Internet with the aim of initiating sexual contacts [more on Wikipedia]”.
I couldn’t find any figures on how big the phenomenon of cybergrooming really is. In my opinion, one should deal with it in the same way as one deals with the problem in the analogue world: I enlighten my children that there are sometimes adults who have evil plans for children. I tell them what tricks they use to gain trust. I also deal with this danger on the Internet (it’s not a TikTok phenomenon, it’s a general one when children are on the Internet).
Strangers can gain trust to buy tiktok likes by pretending to be children or teenagers themselves. They may then switch relatively soon to a more private platform (the messenger that the child uses by default), make small gifts and even want to meet in the analogue at some point.
TikTok is just one of many networks that will be attractive for children and teenagers in the future. Adults will not be able to create an account everywhere and get to know the network through their own experiences and activities. For example, I’ve already been thrown out of Snapchat and would never have thought of looking at TikTok on my own. So as a mother I need a kind of metacompetence to understand and judge new social networks.