The account of this man was deactivated by TikTok after they were reached by the Wall Street Journal seeking information on his case, and the details of how this adult male was able to pursue the teen girl via TikTok. The Department of Homeland Security's Erin Burke says that TikTok is a platform often used by pedophiles and predators to find children to exploit. Burke is a past leader of the DGS child exploitation unit.
Many of the videos featured on the US version of the platform are of children and teens themselves, doing dance routines, react videos, singing, or simply venting about their lives, and the algorithm of the app feeds kids more of what they want. The Wall Street Journal reports that this makes it easier for pedophiles to seek out vulnerable minors, as well. Adults who are interested in finding minors need only watch short videos of kids on the platform, and the algorithm will feed them more content featuring children.
A Waco police detective said "You have young kids dancing and showing their lives all over TikTok. It makes it a one-top shop for poeple looking to exploit them."
While the app allows users to restrict their content to only family and friends, TikTokers tend to keep their channels public so that they can increase their social media following and clout. But the increase in content makes it hard, experts warn, for TikTok to monitor the content to make sure it's not in violation of the terms of service.
TikTok has caught the ire of many US lawmakers from local levels up to the federal government. Some jurisdictions have banned TikTok from phones used by government employees, with some lawmakers seeking to ban the app outright. Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, the app is believed by some to have a back door that is accessible by the CCP. When asked if the Biden administration beleives TikTok to be a national security threat, the press secretary stated that TikTok was not even allowed on White House devices.
A report from November indicated that the content TikTok provides to American kids and teens is drastically different from that which the algorithms feed the children of China. In the Chinese version of TikTok, called Doyuin, "if you're under 14 years old, they show you science experiments you can do at home, museum exhibits, patriotism videos and educational videos," said Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology.
"And they also limit it to only 40 minutes per day. Now they don't ship that version of TikTok to the rest of the world. So it's almost like they recognize that technology's influencing kids' development, and they make their domestic version a spinach version of TikTok, while they ship the opium version to the rest of the world," he added.
TikTok claimed that they seek to protect younger users of the platform, and that they screen posts and comments via AI and machine learning tools, though humans do review the content if it rises to a substantial enough level. The Wall Street Journal said that the company would not disclose how many human screeners TikTok has in their employ. TikTok users are asked to submit their birthdays, but there is no verification process to make sure users are being honest.
However, TikTok's global head of risk and response operations reached out to the Journal after their article went public to say that "child sexual abuse and exploitation abhorrent and said that when the company becomes aware of such content, 'we take immediate action to remove it, terminate accounts, and report cases' to the appropriate authorities."
Another spokesperson from TikTok told the Journal that "child sexual abuse material and so-called grooming behavior is instantly removed from the site, the user’s account immediately banned and a report made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline, a centralized reporting system for incidents of online sexual exploitation of children."
"TikTok," the Journal reports, "made 154,618 reports in 2021 to the tip line, a record for the platform with over one billion monthly active users, up from 596 reports in 2019."
Shou Zi, Chief Executive for TikTok, is slated to appear before Congress in March to discuss the concerns of lawmakers over minors being sexually exploited on the platform and being exposed to dangerous content. Another question lawmakers have is whether or not user data is stored in China.
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