TikTok became the latest tech company Thursday to announce tighter protections for teenagers as social media platforms come under increased scrutiny over their privacy safeguards.
The short video-sharing app will roll out a number of features in the coming months, including a default curb for 16 and 17-year-olds on in-app messaging unless it is switched to a different setting.
Under 16s will see a pop-up message when they publish their first video, asking them to choose who can watch.
And users aged 16 and 17 will be able to receive a pop-up asking them to confirm who can download their videos. Downloads are already disabled on content posted by under 16s.
The Chinese-owned platform will also stop sending push notifications to users aged 13 to 16 from 9pm — and an hour later for 16 to 17-year-olds — with the aim of reducing their screen time at night.
The moves announced by head of child safety public policy Alexandra Evans and global head of privacy Aruna Sharma build on previous measures to protect young users from predators, bullies and other online dangers.
“It’s important to ensure even stronger proactive protections to help keep teens safe, and we’ve continually introduced changes to support age-appropriate experiences on our platform,” Evans and Sharma said.
“We want to help our younger teens in particular develop positive digital habits early on.”
TikTok was the world’s most downloaded app last year, overtaking Facebook and its messaging platforms, market tracker App Annie said Tuesday.
The Chinese-owned video app surged in popularity despite efforts by former president Donald Trump to ban it or force a sale to US-based investors, according to the research firm.
TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, is believed to have one billion users worldwide including more than 100 million in the United States, and its short-form videos are especially popular with young smartphone users.
US President Joe Biden in June revoked executive orders from his predecessor seeking to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat from US markets on national security concerns but ordered a review of the potential risks of foreign-owned internet services.
While political debate about the video-snippet sharing sensation roiled, TikTok climbed from the fourth most downloaded app in 2019 to the top spot last year, according to App Annie data.
On the way, TikTok stepped over Facebook and two of the US internet giants texting apps Messenger and WhatsApp, the market tracker determined.
The popular TikTok video-sharing app was blocked Wednesday in Pakistan for a fourth time because of “inappropriate content”, the country’s telecommunication regulator said.
The Chinese-owned site has fought a series of legal battles with religious activists and authorities in the conservative Muslim nation, and was shut down for two days earlier this month on the order of a provincial court.
Freedom of speech advocates have long criticised creeping government censorship and control of Pakistan’s internet and media.
“The action has been taken due to continuous presence of inappropriate content on the platform and its failure to take such content down,” the telecoms authority said in a statement.
No, you don’t have to be 19 or below to qualify as a teenage creator on TikTok. You just have to believe in two things: one, that humankind was made for joy; and two, that there is no limit, no rule to the expression of what the French call la gaieté.
Behind the roaring success of TikTok globally- the app now has about one billion monthly active users – are these teenage creators who, incidentally, are also the audience. They shoot and edit and publish a diverse range of video content, from dance routines to lipsyncing lyrics, comedy, motivational excerpts and even doling out technical information.
And, since everyone on TikTok is a potential creator, anyone can go viral overnight. Like Khabane Lame, a 21-year-old factory worker in the northern Italian industrial town of Chivasso who lost his job and then, using TikTok’s duet and stitch features, was catapulted to fame.
Many young Nigerians have already jumped on the TikTok train. According to Statista, TikTok was the ninth most popular social media platform in Nigeria, just behind LinkedIn and Telegram, as of the third quarter of 2020. And the future, no doubt, is brighter.
Rodney Umeh, a student of the University of Abuja, started making videos on TikTok “just for the fun of it.”
And then his short productions, composed of a waist-twisting dance routine, suspenseful music, sharp transitions and short captions – started to go viral.
“I can’t remember how I learnt the waist routine,” he told Channels Television, “but I’ve been using it since my secondary school days. It was on TikTok that I used it for the first time online.”
His videos have garnered over 10 million likes.
“My long term plan for TikTok is basically to entertain as many people as possible,” he said. “Just the feeling I get when one of my followers tells me that my videos make his or her day is enough for me. Every other thing is just vibes.
Priscilla Isaac started creating sometime in 2019 and is already one of the biggest local stars. “I love how you can confidently express yourself in 60 seconds via TikTok,” she said.
“TikTok has given many people confidence and brought out so many talented individuals, and that’s what I love about it.”
But beyond posting videos of her dance challenges and romantic monologues, she has also found creative ways to monetise TikTok.
“I started taking TikTok seriously when it became the next big social media platform for business owners,” she said. “Believe it or not, TikTok is the biggest marketing platform in the world. It is competing with Twitter.
“As a TikTok creator, the app doesn’t pay me directly, but I get paid via promotions and jobs I do for business owners, musicians and brand owners. And I have worked with so many brands, including DSTV.”
There are large social media platforms designed to encourage users, as much as possible, to stay within their peculiar walls.
TikTokers can link their Instagram and YouTube pages on their profile pages with brand logos displayed. They can easily export videos to WhatsApp and Twitter.
And, because of its unique production features, creators routinely shoot and edit videos within the TikTok ecosystem to share natively on other social media platforms.
One of such creators is Ope Keshinro, who has a keen talent for mimicking outlandish characters.
“It started during the lockdown,” she told Channels Television. “Everyone was looking for distractions and something to keep mind and body together. If I wasn’t watching a movie, I was on social media.”
One sunny afternoon, she was scrolling on Twitter when she stumbled on a funny, viral video and thought to recreate it.
“At that time I didn’t even have a TikTok account, so I had to open one to use the voiceover and that’s where it all started from,” she said.
Now, she shoots and edits all her videos on TikTok. And, while her TikTok audience is growing, her Twitter profile has even done better.
While TikTok is minting new celebrities, established media stars and content creators are also flocking to the platform to get a piece of the viral pie.
Celebrities like Olamide, Korede Bello, Mr Macaroni and Taooma already have substantial TikTok following.
The platform gives them another format to connect with their fanbase in a different way, and also bring more people into the fold.
For Ayodele Aguda (Mcshemcomedian), who has been creating comedy skits on Facebook and YouTube since the early 2010s, TikTok was a game-changer.
He joined in 2019 and started producing short versions of his comedy.
“In two months, I had gained like two million followers,” he told Channels Television. “In another six months, I was on like three million. And the content was receiving so much acceptance. So I just kept doing that.”
As of this month, Ayodele’s videos have been liked over 110 million times. And with more than four million followers, he is one of the most popular TikTok creators in Nigeria.
“You can easily go viral on TikTok,” he said. “That cannot really happen on Instagram. On Instagram, someone has to take up your content. But on TikTok, it will likely go viral.
“If somebody wants to start creating and they don’t know where to start from, I tell them to start from TikTok.
“TikTok is where you are doing something other people are doing and no one will hold you that you are copying. Just take a sound and use it; and if you interpret it better than the person, it will go viral and people will follow you.”
Despite its feel-good ambience, like most of the social Internet, TikTok isn’t immune to online abuse and bullying.
“I think the most unexpected comment I have gotten was my first hate comment,” Rodney said. “It was unexpected at that time cause I was used to the positive comments.”
On her part, Priscilla expects some negativity whenever she posts a piece of content.
“As a content creator, we are already aware of people’s bad energy and negative comments,” she said. “We see them as normal.
“It was when I first joined TikTok, I was literally afraid of getting bad comments, but no matter the type of content you post, not everyone will agree to it.”
“Now I realise why politicians are not moved by what people say,” he said. “I’ve read so many comments, good and bad. And I’ve realised that not everyone can be pleased.”
“People put their hearts and souls into creating and entertaining on TikTok, and we recognize how discouraging it can feel to receive unkind comments on videos,” TikTok’s Joshua Goodman said. “We hope this update helps creators feel more empowered over their experience on TikTok.”
Follow the money
In June, black American TikTok creators went on strike over not being credited and not receiving equal rewards for their creativity.
There was no evidence that Nigerian TikTokers participated in the action or were even aware, but many complained about not being able to earn directly from their TikTok work.
“I have a lot of plans for TikTok, but it’s not on the agenda now because they don’t pay yet,” Ayodele said.
He’d rather focus on investing more resources in social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube who pay Nigerian creators.
TikTok has a rolling fund for creators, but it is only available for those based in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain or Italy.
“TikTok should start appreciating content creators like me,” Priscilla said. “The app should start paying African creators and if they do so, this is going to be a great thing for us creators.”
For now, Nigerian super creators rely on third party sponsorships to keep the burgeoning flame alive.
‘Tik Tok Won’t Wait’
Most TikTok videos do not require any fancy production equipment, even for stars; although some go heavy once they can afford it.
To be successful on TikTok, you only need to “keep it natural and be consistent,” according to Priscilla.
“You just have to keep creating,” Ayodele offered. “And be putting out content. Don’t put anything in your archive and feel it’s not good. Let people tell you whether it is good or not. In fact, people can criticise your content so much and it helps people know you.”
And for Ope Keshinro, the star who has equally gained traction on Twitter through her TikTok production, creators shouldn’t wait for the perfect location. “Shoot any and everywhere you can. Tiktok won’t wait for you,” she said. “Every week, new challenges are launched so if you wait to get a fine background you just might miss out lol . . . unless it’s fashion and beauty you’re focused on then that’s understandable because of aesthetics and all. If it’s comedy or any other thing you’re doing, do it fast.
“Also be creative, think about what makes your own content stand out. Hundreds of creators have most likely done the content you want to do, so think about what would make your own different; it can be your choice of costume, your mannerism or your transitions.”
And, very importantly, she added, focus on your lighting.
“You need to have the perfect lighting,” she said. “Ringlights don’t even suffice anymore so you need to find the perfect lighting else the quality of the video comes out poor. The people abroad don’t have this kind of issue, maybe because their sky is brighter? But you’ll hardly see any video with poor quality from a creator overseas.”
Despite its widespread success, TikTok’s future is not cast in stone.
Owned by Chinese company Bytedance, the app has had its troubles with governments across the world. It was almost suspended in the United States during the administration of Donald Trump and the app is banned in Pakistan for promoting ‘indecent’ content.
In Nigeria, it has largely escaped attention as the country tightens control on social media amid an indefinite suspension of Twitter.
And, government regulation may be an advantage for TikTok. Chinese tech companies have a reputation for sticking to government rules.
Besides, TikTok’s official mission is not freedom or political emancipation, but to “inspire creativity and bring joy.” And, who doesn’t love a good laugh?
Pakistan authorities on Thursday again blocked the popular TikTok social media app after a court ruling on a private citizen’s petition that accused the company of promoting obscenity.
“The TikTok ban is effective from today,” a representative of the company told AFP, and users confirmed they could not access their accounts or view the short video clips that have made the app one of the most popular in the country.
“It is absurd,” said Imdad Kazmi, studying mass communication at a government university.
“It affects thousands of people who promote their products, fashion and other goods. The ban is not a solution at all.”
Chinese-owned TikTok has been shut down twice before in Pakistan because of alleged “indecent” content — most recently in March, after which the company pledged to better moderate content.
It said Wednesday it had removed more than six million videos from its Pakistan service in the past three months alone — around 15 percent featuring “adult nudity and sexual activities”.
A spokesman said the content was removed as a result of both user and government requests.
In the Muslim nation, posting videos in Western clothes that reveal too much skin is taboo, and is often met with abuse.
Earlier this month, small anti-TikTok rallies were held against what protesters called the spreading of homosexual content on the platform.
“We have grown our local-language moderation capacity for Pakistan and work diligently to review and take action on content in violation of our community guidelines,” a TikTok statement said after the latest takedown.
The Sindh High Court said the suspension would hold in place until the next hearing on the petition on July 8.
Freedom of speech advocates have long criticised creeping government censorship and control of Pakistan’s internet and media.
TikTok removed more than seven million accounts of users suspected of being under age 13 in the first three months of 2021, the popular social media operator said Wednesday in a transparency report.
The Chinese-owned app which is wildly popular with young smartphone users, also said it took down nearly 62 million videos in the first quarter for violating community standards — including for “hateful” content, nudity, harassment or safety for minors.
In its first disclosure on underage users, TikTok said it uses a variety of methods, including a safety moderation team, that monitors accounts where users are suspected of being untruthful about their age.
Those age 12 or younger are directed to “TikTok for Younger Users” in the United States.
TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, is believed to have some one billion users worldwide including more than 100 million in the United States.
Last month, the Biden adminstration reversed orders from former president Donald Trump which would have banned TikTok or forced its sale to American investors.
The report comes with social media operators facing increased pressure to remove abusive and hateful content while remaining open to a variety of viewpoints.
TikTok’s transparency report said that in addition to the suspected underage users, accounts from nearly four million users additional were deleted for violating the app’s guidelines.
“Our TikTok team of policy, operations, safety, and security experts work together to develop equitable policies that can be consistently enforced,” the report said.
“Our policies do take into account a diverse range of feedback we gather from external experts in digital safety and human rights, and we are mindful of the local cultures in the markets we serve.”
TikTok said its automated systems detect and remove the vast majority of offending content: “We identified and removed 91.3 percent before a user reported them, 81.8 percent before they received any views, and 93.1 percent within 24 hours of being posted.”
Overall, fewer than one percent of the videos uploaded on TikTok were taken down for violations.
Pakistan has blocked video sharing app TikTok for a second time, after a court ordered the platform shut down over “unethical and immoral content”.
Wildly popular among young Pakistanis, the Chinese-owned app was briefly banned last year on the same grounds by the ultra conservative Islamic country’s telecommunications agency.
“Pakistan Telecom Authority(PTA) has issued directions to the service providers to immediately block access to the TikTok app,” it said Thursday following the court order earlier in the day.
The app has previously been blamed by one of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s advisers for promoting the “exploitation, objectification & sexualization” of young girls.
Peshawar High Court, in the country’s northwest, ordered the app to be banned immediately over videos “contrary to ethical standards and moral values of Pakistan,” Sara Ali Khan, the lawyer who sought the ban, told AFP.
The app was not accessible in Pakistan on Thursday evening.
A plan to force the sale of TikTok to American investors has been put on hold as the administration of President Joe Biden reviews the security risks of the popular Chinese-owned video app, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
The Journal, citing unnamed sources, said the Biden White House had indefinitely shelved the plan to require the sale of TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, to US tech giant Oracle with Walmart as a retail partner.
The plan by former president Donald Trump was driven by concerns that TikTok and other Chinese online services posed security risks because of their ties to the Beijing government.
The Journal said the new administration is in the midst of a review of data security and ways to prevent the information TikTok collects on American users from being accessed by the Chinese government, but that there would be no imminent move to force the sale.
The White House did not directly address the report, but spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “It’s not accurate to suggest that there is a new proactive step by the Biden White House.”
Psaki added that there is a “rigorous” review of data security of TikTok by an interagency government panel, with no timetable set.
“I will note broadly speaking that we are comprehensively evaluating the risks… to US data including from TikTok and will address them in a decisive and effective fashion,” she said.
A Trump administration move to ban downloads of TikTok had been stalled amid legal challenges.
TikTok, the wildly popular app with an estimated 100 million US users, has repeatedly defended itself against allegations of data transfers to the Chinese government, saying it stores user information on servers in the United States and Singapore.
A tentative deal unveiled by the Trump administration would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.
Italian prosecutors have opened a probe into the accidental death of a 10-year-old girl who allegedly took part in a “blackout challenge” on the video-sharing network TikTok.
The girl died in a Palermo hospital after being discovered Wednesday by her five-year-old sister in her family bathroom with her cellphone, which was seized by police.
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, said Friday it had not managed to identify any content on its site that could have encouraged the girl to participate in any such challenge, but was helping the authorities in the probe over possible “incitement to suicide”.
“The safety of the TikTok community is our absolute priority, for this motive we do not allow any content that encourages, promotes or glorifies behaviour that could be dangerous,” a TikTok spokesman said.
Medical experts have warned about the danger of the challenge being taken up by some young people, who refer to it as “scarfing” or “the choking game” in which restricted oxygen to the brain results in a high.
The girls’ parents told La Repubblica newspaper that another daughter explained that her sister “was playing the blackout game”.
“We didn’t know anything,” the girl’s father told the paper.
“We didn’t know she was participating in this game. We knew that (our daughter) went on TikTok for dances, to look at videos. How could I imagine this atrocity?” he said.
Italy’s data protection agency filed a lawsuit against TikTok in December, alleging a “lack of attention to the protection of minors” and criticising the ease with which very young children could sign up to the video app.
TikTok, which went global in 2018, has built its rapid success on its parodies, messages and short dance or comedy video performances set against popular music — along with an algorithm that determines which content is most likely to interest each user.
The death of the girl provoked strong reactions in Italy and calls for better regulation of social networks.
“Social networks can’t become a jungle where anything is allowed,” said Licia Ronzulli, president of Italy’s parliamentary commission on child protection.
TikTok owner ByteDance has begun rolling out an electronic payment service connected to Douyin, the Chinese version of the popular short video app, the tech giant said Tuesday.
Douyin Pay, which functions similarly to reigning Chinese electronic wallets WeChat Pay and Alipay, aims to “supplement existing major payment options, and to ultimately enhance user experience,” ByteDance told AFP.
The move sees the tech giant wade into China’s lucrative market for electronic payment services, which are used by hundreds of millions of consumers for everything from street food to fast fashion and online purchases.
Users of the app will be able to connect bank accounts to the service, which can then be used to pay for products promoted by video influencers as well as to tip content makers.
ByteDance said it would gradually roll out the function to users.
Douyin, which listed over 600 million daily active users last year, has quickly grown from its short video roots to include livestreaming and e-commerce.
Livestream shopping is a nearly $70 billion industry in China, attracting influencers who scour markets and malls for items to peddle to live audiences via social media.
An Egyptian appeals court on Tuesday acquitted two young women imprisoned for “attacking society’s values” over videos they published on TikTok, a court official said.
“The court of appeal accepted the appeal filed by Haneen Hossam and Mawada Al-Adham against their imprisonment… on charges of incitement to debauchery and attacking society’s values,” the official said, asking not to be named.
The women had been sentenced to two years in prison in July 2020 for “breaching public morals”.
Hossam had been arrested in April after posting a video on TikTok, telling her 1.3 million subscribers that girls could work with her for money.
She was accused of “inciting debauchery”, “attacking public morals” and “human trafficking”.
Al-Adham, who has some two million Instagram followers, was also arrested in May after publishing satirical videos.
They are among a dozen “influencers” arrested in 2020 for “breaching public morals” in the conservative country.