Use TikTok safely

Sing and dance like the superstars and create a cool video. The TikTok app makes it easy to do just that. The focus here is on recording, editing and sharing videos. For their clips - so-called TikToks - primarily young people then receive likes and comments from other users, most of whom they don't know.

On the homepage, the first video is played immediately after opening the app. For many young people, they offer ideal opportunities for entertainment and distraction. Those who create their own profile can upload the TikToks they have created and also share them on other platforms such as Instagram. Users can also support their "idols" via cash gifts based on real money.

Age-based default setting of accounts

Since January 2021, all accounts of people between 13 and 15 years old are automatically set to "private". This means users* in this age group can now decide for themselves who can follow them and who can watch or comment on their videos. The comment function under the videos is deactivated in the default settings and can only be used by "friends" after changing the basic settings. Strangers can no longer comment on videos of 13-15 year olds. The "Duet", "Stitch" and "Suggest your account to others" features are disabled for the 13-15 age group. Also, videos from this age group can no longer be downloaded by others. Note: With the help of external programs, other users can bypass this block and continue to save videos.

The accounts of people between 16 and 17 will also be restricted in some functions. "Duet" and "Stitch" are available, but in the default settings they are only possible with "friends". The downloading of one's own videos by other users* is deactivated in the default settings. However, this function can be activated later.

Since November 2022, livestreams can only be started by people over the age of 18 who have at least 1000 followers. In addition, users* can specify before the start whether the stream is suitable for minors. Depending on this, they can then watch the streams.

All of the safety precautions described above only apply if the correct date of birth was entered when registering the account.

Since 2020, TikTok also offers a so-called "accompanied mode". For this, the account of a parent and the account of a child are linked. The parent account can then make settings for the child's account. For example, it is possible to specify how many minutes a day the child can use TikTok.

Anyone who no longer wants to use TikTok can delete their own account. To do this, it is not enough to remove the app from the smartphone. In the profile, one can select the option "Delete my account" in the settings. The account is initially deactivated for 30 days and is then permanently deleted. TikTok thus wants to offer the possibility to restore the account once again. A step-by-step guide is available at Saferinternet.at.

Risks associated with TikTok use

No effective age control

Officially, TikTok can be used from the age of 13. However, the specified minimum age is not effectively checked in practice. Thus, even younger children can download and use the app without any problems by entering a false age.
Via the "accompanied mode" , parents have the option of protecting their child from being contacted by strangers.

Content harmful to minors

In addition to clips in which young people perform playback to their current favorite songs, the platform also features numerous other videos. These include creative and funny contributions, but also inappropriate and youth-endangering content. According to research by jugendschutz.net , among other things, right-wing extremist and Islamist content is also disseminated, as well as videos glorifying self-harm .

Copyright

Users are often unaware that the videos they create are not exclusively their own work, despite their own creative efforts. Songs that are available on TikTok are licensed only for the TikTok platform and can be used to create videos on the platform. If copyrighted music is used in videos and these videos are further distributed in other services (e.g. Instagram, YouTube), warnings can therefore be threatened. As soon as other people are visible in the video, permission must also be obtained from the persons depicted (right to one's own image).

Cost trap in-app purchase

While downloading and using the TikTok app is free of charge, users can support their "idols" by donating money, thus drawing attention to themselves. The "coins" for the cash gifts are settled with real money via the app stores, PaySafeCards or the mobile phone bill. The prices can reach triple digits (as of October 2022). The function to send or receive coins can only be used by persons over 18 years of age. However, it is not checked during registration whether the information on the date of birth is truthful. To avoid cost traps, parents should deactivate in-app purchases through appropriate settings on the smartphone.

Cyberbullying

As pleasant as praise and encouragement can be on TikTok, negative comments can be hurtful. Particularly drastic: Videos are also disseminated outside the service for bullying purposes and the protagonists are exposed. Under the hashtag #peinlich, for example, you can find clips of embarrassing TikTok videos and hurtful comments by YouTubers and their subscribers on YouTube (source: jugendschutz.net).

TikTok Now

The app TikTok Now has been available in Germany since September 2022. The functions of TikTok Now are based on the social media app BeReal. Users are supposed to post a picture or video at a randomly selected time. However, only a limited time window is available for this. The idea is to create realistic and spontaneous shots without filters or image editing. However, in order to see the contributions of others, one must first post something oneself. This can trigger pressure among young people , lead to ill-considered posting or involuntary release of private information.

To use the app, a TikTok account is required. All settings are taken from this TikTok account. For users* under the age of 18, there is a restriction on TikTok Now. They can only share posts with followers and not via the public feed. This also means that the posts can only be commented on by followers and not by strangers.

Officially, the app can be used from the age of 13. In practice, however, the minimum age is not effectively checked. 

Tips for parents

Try TikTok yourself or let your child show you the app. This way you can have your say, better understand the fascination and the risks, and recognize whether the app is suitable for your child.
You should talk to your child about the following problems that can occur when using TikTok:

Decide together with your child what kind of videos on TikTok are okay and which are not (e.g. no revealing videos or those that allow conclusions about the place of residence or school). If other people are also visible in a video, they must be asked for permission before posting.

  • To agree on individual usage rules you can use the tool media usage agreement .
  • Via the accompanied mode , parents can define the usage times of the app , limit contact possibilities and via restricted mode have certain content intended for adults filtered out.

Inform your child about copyrights. Songs that are available on TikTok are licensed and can be used to create videos on the TikTok platform. However, videos with copyrighted music should not be distributed on other platforms (e.g. Instagram or YouTube) because the music licenses only apply to TikTok. As soon as other people are visible in the video, the right to one's own image must also be observed.

Encourage your child to give free rein to their own creativity - in the videos does not necessarily have to be your child themselves in the picture! With a little skill, you can also create other video formats.