NEW YORK (VosIzNeias)— Music-video app TikTok , which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance Inc., is at the center of a US Government national security review according to a person familiar with the investigation.
TikTok, a lip-synching app that boasts over 500 million users worldwide, has been downloaded over 110 million times in the US alone. However Senators Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton wrote a letter last week to the US Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, stating that the app’s popularity creates ”national security risks,” as it is seen as a way to gather data on US citizens as well as influencing future campaigns in the US.
Senator Marco Rubio wrote to the Treasury Department earlier last month asking to review ByteDance’s purchase of Musical.ly. He said, “I remain deeply concerned that any platform or application that has Chinese ownership or direct links to China, such as TikTok, can be used as a tool by the Chinese Communist Party to extend its authoritarian censorship of information outside China’s borders and amass data on millions of unsuspecting users… I welcome today’s news that an investigation has reportedly been opened.”
A TikTok representative in the US said in a company statement that it “cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, [however] TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the US. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so.”
However the popular app is not just viewed as a security risk but also as an educational and social challenge and teachers are taking time out of their lesson plans to talk to kids about the dangers of the social media video app.
The app has been most popular among children under 16, despite TikTok requiring users to be at least 13. But if kids don’t set privacy settings, anyone can view their content. This can be a major safety concern for young people, particularly if they don’t have adult supervision. A BBC investigation found the app failed to remove cyber predators from the app who were sending sexually explicit messages to teens and children.
Educators “should help safeguard against exposing students to threats that abound on social media, including cruel bullying, predators, and privacy concerns,” Colin Sharkey, executive director at the Association of American Educators and Association of American Educators Foundation said. “Administrators should be clear in their digital policies for staff and students, discouraging any unsupervised interaction between educators and students no matter how well-intentioned.”
Social media safety is a trending topic in Amy Goldberg’s math class at Passaic Arts and Science Charter School in New Jersey where she teaches middle school-aged kids in grades four through eight.
“I say ‘every single thing you put out there can be retrieved and used again, even if you delete it,'” Goldberg told FOX Business, of her student’s obsession with Tik Tok.
TikTok lets users watch and create short videos of themselves lip-syncing, dancing or telling jokes and share them with anyone on the platform.
Some schools are doing their part to protect students during school hours by not allowing cell phone use, period, since it serves as a distraction from their studies.
Goldberg said cell phones are not allowed in the classroom at Passaic Charter School, and if a student is caught more than once using their phone, it’s confiscated and a parent must pick it up and pay $5 each time, Goldberg explained. But students are still distracted by cellphones.
Administrators “want us focusing on the standardized tests and grades, but our students are so worried about if anybody liked their photo; if someone left a mean comment; or ‘so-and-so’ broke up with whomever over Facebook direct message,” Goldberg said. “Their minds aren’t even focused on the things they’re learning in class because they’re thinking about if someone sent them a message on Snapchat.”
And the social media obsession is affecting their mental health.
A study from Pew Research revealed that a quarter of teens aged 13 to 17 had negative effects from excessive social media use citing an increase in bullying and for its “FOMO” effect (fear of missing out), which creates feelings of low self-worth.
It’s impossible not to address or even use social media in the classroom with digital tablets used in many classrooms around the country, Sharkey said. Students often follow current events on Twitter, crowdsource information on Facebook or watch instructional videos on YouTube instead of being focused on their less tech-oriented classes.
“Many educators cannot help but include and acknowledge social media in their effort to reach and educate our students — good or bad, it plays an influential part in modern life,” Sharkey said.
Goldberg understands her students will still use social media outside of school, so she tries to make her lesson plans fun. For a recent math lesson about percentages, students were able to come up with rhyming songs Goldberg made into a video for the class to watch and to mimic the clips on TikTok.
“My students are trying to become the next YouTube viral sensation,” Goldberg says.
Parents can do their part to monitor kid’s privacy settings on apps like TikTok.
Common Sense Media, a non-profit group that helps kids and families navigate media and technology, advises parents to turn on all privacy settings for their kids’ accounts so only people they know can view videos and messages on the app. This can be done by setting the account to private and changing the settings for comments and messages to “Friends” instead of “Everyone.”
Teenage access to social media use has dramatically increased in the past six years. The number of teens using a smartphone has more than doubled since 2012 from 41 percent up to 89 percent, according to a 2018 report from Common Sense Education. What’s more, 70 percent of teens reported using social media more than once a day last year, compared to 34 percent of teens since 2012, and 27 percent of students age 13 through 17 report using social media hourly, according to the same report.
The potential dangers of the Tiktok app have not been lost on foreign governments. The Government of India asked Google and Apple to remove the app from their respective app stores. The Madras High Court originally asked for the ban months ago stating that the app was “inappropriate for children” and “encouraged pornography.” The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) has put a ban on downloading the app in India, though existing users have yet to lose access. Whether or not a complete ban will go into full effect is still up in the air, this isn’t the first time TikTok has been in the news for being a bad influence on children. Back in July 2018, Indonesia banned the app.
Will the app be banned in the US? This is unclear as yet but the concern demonstrated both by national security officials and by educators may eventually lead to stiffer regulation on social media apps like TikTok to prevent the potential negative influences on an entire generation of teens.