Levine notes that comments like “$35 for a flash,” and “I’m 68 and you owe me one,” are common requests from male users to female minors on the video-sharing platform.
“These exchanges did not take place between adults at a nightclub; they took place on TikTok Live, where MJ, who said she was 14 years old, was broadcasting with friends to 2,000 strangers on a recent Saturday night,” Levine wrote.
TikTok boomed over the COVID-19 pandemic, jumping from 381M users in 2019 to over 700M in 2020.
Movieguide® previously reported on the pornographic and adult content easily accessible on TikTok:
The Wall Street Journal recently published a report that shed light on how the social media site TikTok exposes minors to pornographic content and drug usage through search algorithms.
The report, titled “How TikTok Serves Up Sex and Drug Videos to Minors,” conducted its experiment by creating fake accounts that represented users between 13 and 15 to observe what content the app emphasized.
“TikTok served one account registered as a 13-year-old at least 569 videos about drug use, references to cocaine and meth addiction, and promotional videos for online sales of drug products and paraphernalia. Hundreds of similar videos appeared in the feeds of the Journal’s other minor accounts,” the report found. “TikTok also showed the Journal’s teenage users more than 100 videos from accounts recommending paid pornography sites and sex shops. Thousands of others were from creators who labeled their content as for adults only.”
The Wall Street Journal sent 974 videos to TikTok, noting that adult videos and drug content were “served to the minor accounts — including hundreds shown to single accounts in quick succession.”
Leah Plunkett, an assistant dean at Harvard Law School and faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, called TikTok “the digital equivalent of going down the street to a strip club filled with 15-year-olds,” referencing users’ digital gifts which receivers can turn into cash.
The transactions are happening in a public online forum open to viewers almost anywhere on the planet. Some of the demands are explicit — like asking girls to kiss each other, spread their legs, or flash the camera — and some harder to detect, masked with euphemisms. Commenters say “outfit check” to get a complete look at a girl’s body; “pedicure check” to see their feet; “there’s a spider on your wall” to get girls to turn around and show their rears; and “play rock-paper-scissors” to encourage girls to flirt-fight or wrestle with each other. Phrases like “put your arms up” or “touch the ceiling” are often directed at girls in crop tops so viewers can see their breasts and stomachs. And many simply coax girls to show their tongues and belly buttons or do handstands and splits. In return, the girls are showered with virtual gifts, like flowers, hearts, ice cream cones and lollipops, that can be converted to cash.
Despite their rules of not allowing any user under the age of 18 to receive or send gifts, the company recently faced lawsuits over their sexually exploitive content and business model.
Two former TikTok moderators are suing the video-sharing app after claiming they experienced emotional trauma after seeing “highly toxic and extremely disturbing” videos every day.
TikTok moderators review videos posted on the app and determine if they break any of the site’s content rules and guidelines.
“We would see death and graphic, graphic pornography. I would see nude underage children every day,” Ashley Velez said. “I would see people get shot in the face, and another video of a kid getting beaten made me cry for two hours straight.”
Velez and another moderator, Reece Young, have filed a federal lawsuit seeking class-action status against TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance.
“You see TikTok challenges, and things that seem fun and light, but most don’t know about this other dark side of TikTok that these folks are helping the rest of us never see,” said lawyer Steve Williams of the Joseph Saveri Law Firm, which filed the case.
After renowned journalist Nicholas Kristof’s landmark expose on PornHub’s abuse of minors, U.S. legislators’ shared concerns over the protection of children increased dramatically.
Several state attorneys general recently launched an investigation into the video-sharing app TikTok and its alleged connection to users’ poor mental health.
California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont led the investigation after a recent concern over the harmful effects of social media on young users and a lack of accountability of major tech companies.
“Our children are growing up in the age of social media — and many feel like they need to measure up to the filtered versions of reality that they see on their screens,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a news release. “We know this takes a devastating toll on children’s mental health and well-being.”
While TikTok may not ever become an outright adult site, many leading voices in the discussion of sexual exploitation note that it is a gateway.
“The challenge is: it goes all over the world after that,” Peter Gentala, senior legal counsel at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said of TikTok Live. “[There is] abuse in the moment, screen capture, then use that for their own purposes afterwards and make other money for it on the Internet, whether it’s dark web or other places where it’s openly traded.”
As the number of lawsuits against the porn industry continues to rise and awareness around the sexual exploitation of minors through adult content grows, many companies are under fire from activists groups such as Exodus Cry and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE).
TikTok responded: “Protecting minors is vitally important, and TikTok has taken industry-first steps to promote a safe and age-appropriate experience for teens.”
However, in 2020, the NCOSE placed TikTok on its annual Dirty Dozen List, which calls out companies and tech which appear to profit off the sexual exploitation of children.
NCOSE Communications Director Jake Roberson said at the time: “These exploiters utilize TikTok to view minor users and either comment and or message these users directly, often requesting sexually explicit videos. An advocacy group accurately called TikTok a ‘hunting ground for predators to abuse children.’ Forbes identified TikTok as a magnet for sexual predators.”
Shortly after their appearance on the list, they announced changes to allow more parental control over what children see on the app.
“We want people to have fun on TikTok, but it’s also important for our community to look after their wellbeing which means having a healthy relationship with online apps and services,” TikTok said in a statement from Feb. 2020. “We will keep introducing ways to keep our community safe so they can stay focused on what matters to them – creating, sharing, and enjoying the creativity of TikTok’s community.”
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