VIDEO-sharing app TikTok is sweeping school playgrounds – yet beneath its seemingly harmless surface, it has become a hotbed of profanity, a Sun Online investigation can reveal.
The immensely popular platform is littered with vulgar clips – from children deliberately swearing in front of their parents and 'flipping off' their pets to young girls rapping the lyrics: "You a slave for this p***y."
Mums have been so horrified by the obscene content they've banned TikTok altogether from their children's phones – while experts have slammed the app for encouraging "name calling" among youngsters, dubbing it a "school for swearing" and a "bullies' bootcamp".
TikTok users are supposed to be aged 13 or older, yet the app requires no age verification – aside from entering a date of birth – meaning children of any age can record, upload and view videos.
And while the platform seems innocent at first glace – with endless clips of adorable kittens, reality stars and users performing dance 'challenges' – it doesn't take long to uncover far more explicit content.
'You a p***y a** b****'
Sun Online downloaded the app – dubbed a "magnet for paedophiles" – as part of our TikTok Time Bomb series, and, within minutes, we were confronted by vulgar language in videos relating to sex, drugs and animal cruelty.
In one clip, a young girl in unicorn pyjamas – aged only around six – lip-syncs the lyrics of BigKlit’s song, Liar: "You a slave for this p***y, do not lie. F***! You a p***y a** b****. F*** you, your mumma, and your kids."
She appears to be joined by her big sister in the footage, which has more than 50,000 'likes'.
Another video shows a TikTok user filming her boyfriend in bed, to the tune: “Is your boyfriend a p***k, does he have a little d***? Does he sleep with loads of h*** that he doesn’t even know?
"Does he think he’s fit, when really he’s a t**. Is your boyfriend a p***k?"
Explicit tunes and the C-word
And a third sees a girl – who looks to be around eight – asking Amazon's Alexa device to say the phrase "a hundred, a hundred, a hundred, a hundred" in Welsh, so it sounds like she's saying the C-word.
“I find platforms like this unethical," consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron tells us.
"We teach our children to be respectful of others and our parents and this is manipulating young children behind their parents backs to encourage swearing and name calling of others.
"It needs to be condoned in the strongest possible terms and age restrictions which need to be verified by an adult added to platforms such as this."
TikTok time bomb
TIKTOK has spread like digital wildfire, snapping up over 1.5 billion users since its global launch three years ago — including millions in the UK.
On the surface, the world's fastest-growing social media platform shows short clips of lip-syncing to songs or showing off dance moves but there’s a far more sinister side.
It’s become a magnet for paedophiles as well as a hotbed for violent and extremist content, with TikTok predators exploiting the platform's young user base and lax security to prey on the vulnerable.
We've seen kids as young as eight being groomed on TikTok, while other creeps take advantage of young girls posting sexualised content of themselves on the platform.
And that's especially worrying on a site which is attracting millions more children every year, with 53 per cent of kids now owning a smartphone by the age of seven.
That's why we launched our TikTok Time Bomb series — to make sure parents are aware of the risks their kids are being exposed to, and what they can do to better protect them.
Everyone agrees that social media can be a force for good, but it has to be used the right way and with proper controls in place.
We want TikTok to better moderate its content so that it’s not being left to kids to protect themselves online.
Horrified mum-of-four Monica Morong immediately made her daughters delete the app – thought to have around five million active users in the UK – after coming across some of the explicit content.
Monica, a 'clean' rapper, tells us she had finally "caved" and allowed her daughters, aged 11 and 12, to download TikTok after they begged her for it, saying it was the "in-app" among their pals.
The girls promised to keep their profiles private so strangers couldn't see their 'Toks' – which were just "cute little dances" in their bedroom – but this didn't stop them from seeing others' content.
'Portal into profanity'
And when Monica carried out an "audit" on the app around a week later, she was shocked.
"In hindsight I definitely should have spent more time auditing the app on my own before agreeing to let them download it," admits the mum, whose stage name is Mommy Rapper.
"I discovered the app is a portal into explicit, profane and sexually suggestive content by kids who seem to crave likes, views and comments on their posts."
She adds: "The choreographed dance moves that go viral and everyone's parents try to replicate are harmless. [But] the majority of TikTok's content has no artistic merit and exposes kids to profanity."
In many cases, the vulgarity of the content would shock most adults – never mind kids.
This was the case last year, when a crude challenge swept TikTok encouraging youngsters to film their parents' reactions as they loudly played the Insane Clown Posse's lyrics: "F***, s***, p***y, a**, motherf***ing, d***, b****."
Understandably, many of the parents were left gobsmacked.
Confused dogs battered for 'likes'
Our investigation also found some clips featuring both profanity AND animal abuse – including videos of thugs brutally battering their pets to a rude version of the children's song, If You're Happy and You Know It.
Among them was a clip of a confused black dog trying to bite its owner as it was repeatedly slapped to the lyrics: "If you’re f***ing happy and you motherf***ing know it, clap your motherf***ing hands".
Another clip saw a smaller dog being punched in the jaw.
Take control of TikTok – change these settings now
Parents should do the following immediately…
- Head into Settings > Privacy and Safety and look for the Discoverability heading at the top.
- Under that you'll see a setting called Private Account. Toggle this on.
- TikTok recommends your page to lots of other users to improve video circulation.
- Switch the setting off and the account will no longer be recommended to other users.
Shut out weirdos:
- In Privacy and Safety > Safety, you can prevent other users from interacting with you.
- Most of the settings are on Everyone by default, but can be changed to Friends or Off.
- You can prevent interactions on comments, Duets, Reacts, users seeing which videos you've liked, and also messages.
Restricted Mode ON:
- Restricted Mode tries to limit age-inappropriate content from appearing for children.
- It's not perfect, and works through using computer-scanning systems – so some dodgy content will inevitably be missed.
- It's also possible to set a passcode to prevent your child from changing this setting later on.
- You'll find this in Settings > Digital Wellbeing > Screen Time Management.
Family Safety Mode:
- This setting lets you assign accounts as 'Parent' or 'Teen', giving you remote control over a child's TikTok access.
- You can set watch time limits, exclude inappropriate content and limit who can send messages.
- It's possible to do this from your own smartphone, so you can make sure your child is as protected as possible from anywhere.
- This setting is in Settings > Digital Wellbeing > Family Safe Mode.
“The occasional swear word won't inherently damage children [but] it can become problematic when young children are exposed to serious topics like violence or animal abuse," warns psychotherapist Janine Wirth.
"It's in our human nature to want to feel included, so young children who are still in the process of developing their moral compass and learning what is socially acceptable behaviour are then more at risk of engaging in these behaviours to fit in with their peers."
'Dirty for adults, let alone kids'
TikTok's explicit content has led some fuming parents take to the web to slam the "bullies' bootcamp".
One posted on an online forum: "Lots of sex, lots of swearing, lots of drinking, drugs, and smoking," while another commented: "Within seconds you can watch videos with swearing in. Removed it quickly."
And a third remarked on social media: "Every 50 videos you might see the innocence of a cute dance, but the content is truly disturbing… the language is dirty and offensive for adults, let alone young minds."
'I unintentionally made my kids unsafe'
For Monica – who has content and privacy restrictions set up on her children's devices and knows their passwords – her discovery was enough to instantly delete TikTok off her daughters' phones.
"[The girls] assured me they didn't pay attention to the profanity from other TikTok'ers," she says.
"But they know I have a zero tolerance policy for cursing."
She adds that she had initially got her children mobiles for their walk home from school – but "my intention to keep them safe inadvertently turned into making them unsafe on the Internet".
Parents must police too
TikTok bosses have given the app – which boasts more than 1.5 billion downloads – a 12+ store rating so parents can use device-based controls to block it from their underage child's phone.
They also say under-18s must have parental consent to use the app.
"If a user declares their age to be below 13, they are prevented from opening an account and their device is blocked," a spokesperson from TikTok, which last week announced a new feature to allow parents to control what their kids view told Sun Online.
"We have a number of protective measures in place to reduce the opportunity for misuse and we're constantly evolving our measures to further strengthen safety on TikTok.
"For example, we now prompt any new user under 18 to make their account private at set-up and again before they publish for the first time."
Yet many believe change needs to happen at home, too.
Experts say parents must monitor their children's social media usage, put restrictions in place to prevent them from accessing unsuitable content, and speak to their kids openly about being Internet-savvy.
And Monica agrees.
"It's up to us parents to be in the loop of what our kids are watching, listening to and accessing every time they pick up their device," she says.
"Gone are the days of the single TV in the living room to monitor."
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