The social media giant TikTok has emerged as the biggest, fastest-growing danger zone for children who are targeted by adult predators online, law enforcement officials and others who track child exploitation told the Wall Street Journal. What troubles those who track child exploitation is that TikTok’s algorithm is designed to learn what type of content users like, then feed them a string of it. That keeps youngsters glued to the site and makes it easier for pedophiles to seek them out. With so many videos pouring onto the platform, child-exploitation experts question whether TikTok can effectively monitor them for inappropriate behavior.
The article cites a number of criminal cases in which adults stalked children on TikTok and later sexually abused them. In one, a 42-year-old Alabama man began exchanging romantic notes with a 14-year-old Texas girl. The notes were visible publicly and several TikTok commenters accused him of inappropriate conduct. Last March, he hopped a bus to Texas and met up with the girl. Several days later, he was arrested, and he later was indicted on charges related to alleged sexual assault of a child. TikTok, which is owned by China-based ByteDance Ltd., said it takes steps to protect younger users and is constantly working to improve them. But there is nothing to prevent users under the site's minimum age of 13 to use it. Erin Burke, a division chief at the main investigations arm of the Department of Homeland Security and past leader of its child-exploitation unit, is among those who cite TikTok as a platform frequently used by predators to meet children. Several state attorneys general have launched investigations into TikTok’s effects on the physical and mental health of minors. In Texas, an investigation has partly focused on the site’s reporting of child-sexual-abuse material to proper authorities. Suzy Loftus, TikTok’s global head of risk and response operations, trust and safety, called 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.