A recent investigation has revealed the dark side to social media’s rawest platform, with teenage girls the most vulnerable.
TikTok is often hailed as the most raw social media platform to date. Unlike Instagram, highly curated and edited images need not apply. Unlike Twitter, you don’t need to have a hot take. You can just be.
But there’s a seedy underbelly to this rawness. Earlier this week, Forbes released their findings from reviewing “hundreds of recent TikTok livestreams”.
While people livestream on the platform for all sorts of reasons, the review discovered that “viewers regularly use the comments to urge young girls to perform acts that appear to toe the line of child pornography”.
In return, these viewers offer rewards, like TikTok gifts (which yes, can be redeemed for money) or other payments through things like PayPal.
Now, this is isn’t a discussion about sex work, or about how people of any age chose to share their bodies. It’s about the much older viewers taking advantage of underage people, particularly females. It’s basically the same thing as a group of minors getting on stage at a strip club and not only do the over 18 audience not get up and leave, they start waving dollar bills around.
Forbes goes on to explain that these requests being made of underage users can range from obvious — like “asking girls to kiss each other, spread their legs or flash the camera” — or far more subtle, like asking for an outfit check so the girls would display their whole body, or asking for a pedicure check so they could see the girls’ feet.
Other common phrases viewers asked of minors during their livestream included things like “there’s a spider on your wall” so girls would turn around, “put your arms up” or “touch the ceiling” so girls in crop tops exposed more of their body, and often just asking girls to show tongues and belly buttons, or do the splits. If the livestreamer complied, they would be rewarded with gifts.
So why isn’t there an age restriction on TikTok? Well, actually, there is. There’s a minimum user age of 13 in Australia (although in the U. S. A they have an under 13 version of the app), with accounts of people under 16 being blocked from direct messaging, hosting livestreams or appearing in the For You feed. People under 18 are blocked from sending or receiving gifts through live streams.
The catch, however, is that they don’t verify the ages of users, so they could always just lie. In fact, users under the age of 12 are one of TikTok’s largest audiences — the other largest is people in their teens and early 20s.
So while TikTok did tell Forbes that it “removes content containing sexual activities or attempting solicitation and that it has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual abuse material”, and that some of the accounts Forbes watched had been removed weeks later — clearly there’s still a problem.