New Report Discovers TikTok Exposes Minors to Explicit Content and Drug Usage
By Movieguide® Staff
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.”
The Christian Post reported that of the 974 videos in question, 169 of them were removed before the newspaper sent the content to TikTok. TikTok removed an additional 255 videos after the report was published.
“An earlier video investigation by the Journal found that TikTok only needs one important piece of information to figure out what a user wants: the amount of time you linger over a piece of content. Every second you hesitate or re-watch, the app tracks you,” the report reads. “Through that one powerful signal, TikTok can learn your most hidden interests and emotions, and drive users of any age deep into rabbit holes of content—in which feeds are heavily dominated by videos about a specific topic or theme. It’s an experience that other social-media companies like YouTube have struggled to stop.”
TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is used by millions of users and is one of the most popular social media apps for young audiences in the U.S.
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.”
While TikTok did not make NCOSE’s 2021 “Dirty Dozen” list, they did place the social app on their “Watch List.”