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What is TikTok and how does the app work?

TIKTOK is a video-based social media app popular with teenagers - but despite its popularity, some countries are banning it over concerns it might be dangerous for children.

TikTok is one of the world's most downloaded phone apps, but many have branded it a "magnet for paedophiles", prompting a new investigation into the software and its users.

 More than 800 million people use the app - but most of them are children
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More than 800 million people use the app - but most of them are childrenCredit: Getty Images - Getty

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a Chinese video and music-based social media app that allows users to create and share short videos with special effects.

It was the world’s second most downloaded app in the third quarter of 2019, with an estimated 176 million downloads.

Jokes, clips and footage dominate the platform, along with memes and videos in which youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to popular music.

It is a video-only interface, which makes it less elaborate, less detailed and much easier to use than platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.

The popular social network app is most popular among children under 16.

 Some countries have banned the app
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Some countries have banned the appCredit: Alamy

Are kids allowed to use TikTok?

Officially, the TikTok app requires that users be at least 13 years old to access it.

The age limit brings the app in line with other social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat - all with a minimum age limit of 13.

Rules state that anyone under the age of 18 must have the approval of a parent or a guardian.

But a BBC Trending investigation came across several accounts run by children under 13 - with some as young as nine years old.

The report also found the video-sharing app failed to remove online predators who were sending sexual messages to teenagers and children.

Over three months, the investigation collected hundreds of sexual comments posted on videos uploaded by teenagers and children.

While the company deleted the majority of these comments, the users who posted them were able to remain on the platform, despite TikTok's own rules against sexual content directed at children.

The BBC was also able to identity a number of users who, again and again, approached teenage girls online to post sexually explicit messages on their videos.

All comments found by the BBC were reported to TikTok using the same tools available to any user of the app.

Why is TikTok controversial?

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham recently launched a probe over concerns predatory adults can freely message children on the app.

She said that while one in five Brits online are kids, tech giants and online gaming companies have failed to do enough to protect them.

The data expert said: “We know that the internet, games, websites and social media companies were not designed with kids in mind, and yet 20 per cent of the users of the users of the internet in the UK are children.

“And the kids are not alright. We need to focus on the kids.”

John Carr, one of the UK’s leading experts on child online safety, warned of the controversial app: “There’s no question an app like this is a magnet for paedophiles.”

TikTok bosses have already been fined £4.3million for collecting data on US kids including their names, locations and email addresses.

A TikTok spokesman said:“Promoting a safe and positive app environment is our top priority, and we have a number of measures in place to protect against misuse. 

“For example, users can make their account private, which lets them approve or reject followers and restricts their uploaded content and incoming messages to followers only. 

“We also deploy a combination of policies, technologies and moderation strategies to detect and review problematic content and accounts, and we implement appropriate penalties if our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines are violated. 

“This is an industry-wide challenge, and we are committed to continuously enhancing our existing measures and introducing additional technical and moderation processes as part of our ongoing commitment to our users.”

Have any countries banned TikTok?

In July 2018, TikTok was banned in Indonesia, after the Indonesian government accused it of promoting "pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy."

The app was also banned in India after a string of high profile cases in which videos went wrong, including footage of a man accidentally slitting his throat in Chennai.

Meanwhile, a teenager, 19, was allegedly shot dead by his friend in Delhi as they posed with a pistol to make a video for upload.

Yet, the ban was later lifted.

In January 2019, TikTok was banned by the US army as scrutiny over the platform’s relationship with China, where the app was made, began to grow.

India banned the app in June 2020 as well as 58 other Chinese-owned apps.

The move came after growing tensions between the two countries after deadly border clashes.

And now Trump is threatening to wipe it out from American society.

On Saturday 1 August the President announced he planned to officially ban it - possibly as soon as Saturday 8 - after growing security concerns.

Trump made his announcement on board Air Force One on Friday night.

He told reporters: “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States.

He said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order to enforce the action.

A White House adviser on Sunday 2 August reiterated the view that TikTok is a "national security threat" and said a decision on whether it would be allowed in the US would be made within 24 hours.

TikTok teens jested on the app that he felt threatened by them after Gen-Z users sabotaged a rally by reserving tickets and not showing up.

What should parents know about the app?

When signing up on TikTok, user profiles are made “public” by default - meaning anyone can view videos that your children upload.

TikTok is mostly based on music and video - so profanity and suggestive clothing/dancing are the most obvious sources of adult content.

But the app also encourages some themes that are much more mature than their 16+ rating would suggest.

Strangers can send private messages - so if your child's account remains public, they may be receiving messages from complete strangers.

People who send direct messages can access data, such as where the recipient lives.

But one of the app's positives is the ability to turn on the ‘digital wellbeing’ setting.

Once turned on, the setting will set time limits on app use, which can help your child moderate the time they spend on their phone.

This setting also allows a parent to put restrictions on their child’s account  - but not all material is flagged by the filter and some content may slip through the net.

TIKTOK: A BRIEF GUIDE TO THE WORLD'S MOST DOWNLOADED APP

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.

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