TikTok sparks concern over bullying as app gains popularity

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As the social media video app TikTok continues gaining massive popularity, there is concern the app could be making bullying easier.

There are half a billion active TikTok users around the world and 41% are between the ages of 16 to 24.

"It's grown so fast and it is so popular, and its influence is so broad," said Karen North, professor of digital social media at USC.

The app is primarily a platform to create and watch entertaining videos - anything from pets to celebrities.

It has also been an app bullies have used to taunt young victims.

"No one knows exactly why there is so much bullying on TikTok, but it sort of lends itself to it, in part because it's the popular spot to go," North said. "But, people don't have to be directly connected for the most part, so there's an opportunity to go react to, engage with or bully people."

Settings can be modified so children can only be contacted by people they know. North also recommends having honest conversations about the negative aspects of any platform.

"You wouldn't send a little kid out to cross the street with out explaining how to cross the street, and the digital world is a bunch of streets that kids don't know intuitively how to cross," she said.

Lawmakers have raised questions about possible national security risks posed by the Chinese-owned app. TikTok says it is not influenced by any foreign government and that its U.S. team adheres to U.S. policies.

North encourages parents to discuss privacy and bullying concerns with children, and determine if or when using the app could be appropriate. While she said it is an individual decision, North said she considers middle school-aged children should be the youngest group to use it.
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