TikTok’s policy against grooming behaviors claims that the company has zero tolerance for such behavior. Recently, BBC’s Panorama conducted an investigation to challenge the company’s policy. An account belonging to a 14 years old girl was created and the user reported offensive behavior from a male adult user who was sending her messages containing sexual content. TikTok did not take any action against the account, until Panorama personally reached out to the company.
TikTok in its explanation said that its moderators did not intervene in the matter initially because the young teen had not clarified that she received the offending messages via TikTok’s DMs.
TikTok’s policy does not allow its users under the age of 16 to send or receive messages, but many of the underage users end up lying about their real age and register themselves as older. As part of Panorama’s investigation for the matter, a journalism graduate was recruited to create an account posing as a 14 years old girl, but the account was registered with 16 years of age. The actor whose actual age was 23, uploaded edited pictures of herself on the account that made her appear younger.
The actor continued her activity on TikTok by posting videos and adding hashtags to them like #schoollife and #schooluniform. Over the period, she started receiving messages from older men, one of whom messaged her asking if she wanted to see his penis. She told him she was 14, to which he replied ‘'Ohhh you are underage sorry.”. While the man did not send her any other message after that, he continued to like her posts.
Panorama sent all the messages to TikTok, three days after which the man’s account was still found to be active. Panorama contacted TikTok and the company then banned the man’s account and blocked his smartphone from creating a new one.
A spokesperson of TikTok stated that the app provided safety features to help deal with such problems, like a high level of control for users to allow who can see and interact with what they post.