TikTok is pushing kids as young as 13 towards sex, drug and booze videos, shocking investigation claims
TIKTOK is pushing children as young as 13 towards videos containing sex acts, drugs and alcohol, an investigation has revealed.
The social media platform works out what videos users will see based on what they have watched in the past using an algorithm.
It means users will see content relating to their previous searches, things they've spent longest watching and their most frequently viewed subject matter.
But the algorithm does not change for younger users, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) found.
When a "13-year-old user" created by the paper searched for "OnlyFans", they were able to watch a handful of videos – including two selling porn.
The same teen was also shown a series of sexually oriented clips on the platform's "for you" page – where content is tailored to each user.
In their study, the WSJ created 31 TikTok user bots whose ages were set between 13 and 15 to determine whether younger viewers get a different feed to older TikTok users.
But despite their age settings, the more sexual content the teens viewed, the more they were given in return.
Through the constant curation by the AI-powered algorithm, they found the feeds would become more focused, delving into increasingly inappropriate content.
One of the accounts, claiming to belong to a 13-year-old, was shown 569 videos about drug use, including references to cocaine and meth addiction.
They were also shown videos for the online sales of drug products.
In total, the WSJ accounts were shown over 100 videos promoting porn sites and sex shops from accounts labelled adults only.
They were even fed clips encouraging eating disorders, promoting alcohol consumption and other adult orientated content.
The WSJ reporters sent TikTok almost 1,000 videos showing drugs, porn and other adult-related content that had been shown to their 13 to 15 year old bot accounts.
Of the clips they sent, 255 were removed.
A spokesperson told the WSJ that the firm removed some of the reported videos, and restricted distribution of others to stop them being recommended to other young users in the future – but it isn't clear how many.
Protecting minors is vitally important, and TikTok has taken industry-first steps to promote a safe and age-appropriate experience for teens.
TikTok said they don't currently differentiate between videos served to adult and child accounts, but were working on a new filter tool for younger accounts.
Under their terms of service, users have to be at least 13, and if they are under 18 they need parental permission.
"Protecting minors is vitally important, and TikTok has taken industry-first steps to promote a safe and age-appropriate experience for teens,” TikTok said.
The 31 'bot' accounts used in the WSJ's investigation were each given a date of birth and IP address, with no other information revealed to TikTok.
A dozen of the accounts quickly became dominated by a particular theme, as the selective algorithm tailored the for you page.
TikTok told the Journal that the behaviour of the bots "in no way represents the behaviour and viewing experience of a real person".
But that does not change the volume of adult only videos shown to users whose age was marked 13-15.
A TikTok spokesman said: "While the activity and resulting experience of these bots in no way represents the behaviour and viewing experience of a real person, we continually work to improve our systems and we're reviewing how to help prevent even highly unusual viewing habits from creating negative cycles, particularly for our younger users.
"We care deeply about the safety of minors, which is why we build youth well-being into our policies, limit features by age, empower parents with tools and resources, and continue to invest in new ways to enjoy content based on age-appropriateness or family comfort."
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