An investigation by the Forbes Council has revealed that the live broadcast feature through the “TikTok Live” application provides an opportunity for some viewers to send comments encouraging underage girls to engage in sexual acts in exchange for gifts that can be transferred for money.
The magazine said the content was close to “child pornography”, and the girls complied with the wishes of those watching them on the platform to get digital gifts from “Tik Tok”, which were in the form of flowers, hearts and others symbols com. , and can be exchanged for money.
It is also possible to transfer funds directly to minors outside the application through the services of “Venmo”, “Paypal” and “Cash App”, and the girls publish their accounts in these applications through “Tik Tok”.
“This is the digital simulation to go to a strip club full of 15-year-old girls,” said Leah Blunkett, co-dean of Harvard Law School at the Berkman Small Center for Internet and Society, which specializes in detecting youth and media issues.
And she adds to the magazine, “Imagine entering a store full of minors standing on a stage and in front of them an audience of adults giving them money” to perform sexual movements “according to their whims, “stress,” It’s sexual exploitation. But that’s exactly what Tik Tok does in this case. ”
The magazine notes that some requests are directly sexual, as viewers ask girls to kiss each other, open their legs or show their bodies in front of the camera, but it also notes that other cases are difficult to capture, as it can be interpreted with vague terms or requests that may not have the wrong connotation. The result, however, is sexual.
The magazine cites examples from its investigation that a number of users asked girls to “check their clothes” to look at their bodies, “check nail polish” to look at their feet, or say “there is” a spider against the wall behind you “so they could look at their buttocks.
Other phrases such as asking to play “room scissors” may call the girls together after a gentleman’s game or “raise your arms” for a chance to look at the girl’s body as she wears a shorts jacket.
Answer “Tap Tok”
The instructions for the “Tik Tok” application in the United States stipulate that users must be over 18 years of age to send or receive digital gifts through the live broadcast function, and the application is intended to prohibit users under the age of 16 from to use the live broadcast entirely.
“TikTok has robust policies and mechanisms in place to help protect the safety and security of teens,” a company spokesman told the magazine.
She pointed out that the application prohibits users under the age of 16 from receiving instant messages from unknown persons, adding: “We immediately prohibit the use of services if we disclose that the accounts do not meet the age standards.”
The company stated in an email to the magazine that it removes content that includes sexual activity or that indicates temptation, emphasizing that its policies completely prohibit any content that sexually exploits children.
The magazine indicated that some of the accounts it tracked with sexual undertones in the live broadcast function were deleted after several weeks.
The U.S. government and regulators are increasingly concerned about youth-focused applications such as TikTok.
In his first State of the Union speech last March, US President Joe Biden called for “social media platforms to be held accountable for the domestic experiment they are conducting for the benefit of our children.”
While “Tik Tok” has survived the worst criticism of “Meta” (formerly Facebook), the Chinese video app has begun to do more research, looking for the risks that experts say it poses to minors.
In March, a two-party group of U.S. attorneys general launched an investigation into TikTok’s alleged harm to minor users, and according to the Financial Times, the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the platform’s handling of material that is sexually abusing children. .
A TikTok spokeswoman told the magazine, “We appreciate public prosecutors focusing on the safety of younger users,” but TikTok was unaware of the Homeland Security investigation, she said.
The ministry did not respond to several requests for comment from Forbes.
Experts point out to the magazine that a controversial federal law, known as “Section 230 of the Communications Procedure Act”, which protects Internet companies from legal responsibility for the presentation and modification of content published by users on their platforms, could “Tap Tok” release. of its responsibility for activities that take place via “TikTok Live”.
“In cases where a live feed contains material showing child exploitation or sex trafficking, federal regulations will apply, notwithstanding Section 230,” said Jeff Kosseff, professor of cyber security law at the US Naval Academy. TikTok Live does not comply with these things. . “
“The fundamental problem with Section 230 is that it enables social media platforms to escape much of the same damage that would lead to a lawsuit against a real company, because it only happens online,” said former federal prosecutor Marie Grau Leary. said.
“It’s a digital platform, and in a way we handle it differently, but the irony is that the damage is not the same, it’s worse.”
Legal experts confirm to Forbes that such activities, observed through the application’s live broadcasting service, can help sex offenders reach their targets, whether online or in the real world and even in sexual extortion, and warn against the consequences of unrestricted access to girls’ bedrooms and bathrooms. , where the live broadcast is mostly played.
“This is how things start,” said John Sheehan, vice president of the U.S. National Center for Missing and Missing Children, which advises authorities and technology companies on suspected online sexual exploitation of children.
He explains that the connection created by the “TikTok Live” service is a way for “predators” to test boundaries and, over time, build a relationship with potential targets, with the ultimate goal of taking photos and to obtain videos or perhaps sexual encounters.
Attractive digital gifts
TikTok users spent more than $ 2 billion on the application in 2021, an increase of $ 1 billion over the previous year, according to data analytics firm SensorTower.
TikTok declined to comment on how much was spent by the TikTok Live platform.
The magazine cites a case of a user named “Ella” who appeared without revealing her face in a live broadcast video, with scissors and started cutting her jacket in front of about 3,000 viewers.
Some remarks, according to the newspaper, appealed to her to cut certain parts of the jacket near her belly, which gradually reveals her bra, to show remarks such as “cut more” or “let’s see what you hide” , while another user said, “Tell me where I can meet you to give you the attention I want.” You’re looking for it. ”
Although Ella did not mention her age on the live broadcast, commentators have suggested she is between 12 and 18 years old. Some stressed how young she was and joked that she was two years old.
“Tik Tok” confirms that it tries to work around the problem of verifying the age of users, even if they are old enough to use the features of applications or obtain certain features such as digital gifts.
Madison, 17, tells the magazine that some of her friends earn $ 200 a week on digital gifts on the live streaming service TikTok.
And because she joined the application as a reminder of her real life, Madison could not receive digital gifts through the live broadcast function, but that did not excuse her from some offensive remarks.
She notes that one user asked her friend to take off her jacket for $ 400, while another asked Madison to show part of her body or stand in front of the camera, and she says that some of her followers in the live videos followed her Instagram account, which she linked to “Tik Tok”. And they offered her money to talk to them.
She claims: “I am a minor, and I do not enjoy him talking to me in this way with men in their forties.” It takes a while for me to realize what it was, but I feel that if a girl is 13 years old, and she does not really know what it means, then she would say, ‘Okay’.