Mom Makes Dark Discovery On Popular Children's App, Now She's Begging Parents To Be Aware
By now we all know that public enemy number one is the internet. From illicit chatrooms harboring criminals with some seriously warped fantasies to hackers bombarding you with fake emails in a bid to access your bank account, every corner of the World Wide Web hosts a dark side.
Alarmingly, these breeding grounds for dodgy activity are thriving. With billions active online every day, the possibility to monitor each individual user's digital movements is impossible. Thus, people can get away with some seriously questionable virtual behavior.
As a result, parents are understandably nervous when allowing their child access to the internet.
After years of frightening stories involving young children and online predators hitting the headlines, parents are no longer allowing their offspring free reign to the internet like they once did. The days of messaging strangers on MSN are long gone.
However, despite HUGE efforts to conceal and remove danger zones from the internet, there are still places where unsavory sorts can gain contact with children. One app in particular that has been involved in a great deal of controversy surrounding its safety is Musical.ly.
The app, aimed at children, has frequently been at the center of several scary stories in which children's accounts are being infiltrated by those with less than honorable intentions.
This is what your child is watching whilst using Musical.ly...
Having heard these rumors, one mom decided to investigate the app before allowing her 10-year-old to make an account and sign up. Anatasia Basil wanted to be sure that her daughter would be safe on the app which lets you lip-sync to your favorite tracks, before uploading them on your profile for all your followers to see.
"I download the app while she’s at school but it won’t let me explore without an account," Basil explained in a piece written for Medium. "I create a profile under Chardonaynay47, only to delete that and opt for something less momish — gummibear9."
"Musical.ly looks innocent — just kids making music videos," Basil continues, before explaining how it's much more sinister than it appears at surface level.
"Porn is not the worst thing on Musical.ly," Basil explains, having seen more than her fair share of naked men on the app after just 15 minutes browsing around. "The worst thing is watching little kids (as young as eight) sexually objectify themselves. The kids who get it right (the tweeny Kardashians) gain followers. The kids who get it wrong — those not 'sexy' enough, funny enough, savvy enough — are openly ridiculed in the comment section."
You may question how an app with a userbase of predominantly children can't establish a way in which to protect them. Surely they have banned certain hashtags just like Instagram and Tumblr (hashtags such as #anorexia were banned on both sites in 2012). Well yes, they have. But just like on other sites, where there's a will there's a way - especially with children who want to gain a social following - and therefore, kids have got clever and come up with ways to skirt around these precautionary roadblocks.
As Basil explains:
"There’s code language that gets past Musical.ly’s filters. Some kids hashtag their videos with words like thot — shorthand for That Ho Over There — or fgirl, hottie, sxy, whooty, or sin. But good luck keeping up, the code changes week-to-week."
"There are #killingstalking musical.lys, which are dark-themed (artistic? emo?) videos showing boys putting knives to girls’ throats. There are #selfharm videos that show suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she doesn’t want to live any more. I saw a boy with a bleeding chest (yes, real blood)."
"The images are deeply upsetting. There are #cutter and #triggerwarning and #anorexic videos. Musers with eating disorders hashtag videos using proana (code for pro anorexia.) I found over eleven thousand #selfhate videos. It goes on and on."
Disturbed by this content herself, Basil knew she could never let her 10-year-old step into that world.
"A child stepping into the darkness of another child is not beautiful, it’s wrong. I saw this comment beneath a #suicide video: 'u r beautiful plz dont kill urself im only 10 but i will b ur friend.' Kids should be watching witty cartoons, riding bikes, making slime, doing art, playing Minecraft, learning chess, and boring us with bad magic tricks. They shouldn’t be stopping other kids from killing themselves."
Clearly, Basil was thorough with her research, but sadly not all parents are. "To really understand, you need to use Musical.ly — any social media — as a kid does," she writes, almost pleadingly to any parents reading. "The lesson is that we parents don’t know our kids nearly as well as we think we do. The only thing we do know is the adolescent brain is vulnerable and susceptible. What your kid’s brain sees and what it clocks time doing, matters."
Before signing off, Basil drives home the message of how toxic social media can be to a small child with a simple message that makes so much sense, but is often entirely overlooked in this fast-paced world:
"If [your child] has a rough day at school, a bell sets [them] free each afternoon. The jerks who taunted [them] at lunch aren’t coming home with [them] for the night. [They] have space to think, to be with you, to read, to hug her dog, to recover, to get brave.
"Online, there is no school bell, there is no escape; [they] exists globally, and so do [their] mistakes. The ridicule is permanent. Puberty is harrowing enough in physical form, asking a child to also manage an online ego is like asking them to thread a needle while the plane is going down."
"How many 'Likes' is that self worth? How many followers? A kid learns quickly and harshly that their value is determined by a number. A negative thought pattern is inevitable: 'Everyone else has more followers. Everyone else has more likes. I posted yesterday and only two people have liked it'."
Addressing how parents can make a conscious effort to safeguard their child in the future, Basil offers some advice:
"If your kid has an iPad, disable Safari. Now the iPad has no portal to the global warehouse of mouth diarrhea. Kids can only use the apps you provide. Bing Bang Boom. That was easy."
"Just say no. Once you say yes to social media like Musical.ly or Instagram, it’s really hard to take it back.
"Have your pediatrician back you up. At your kid’s next visit, slip the doctor a pre-written note that says something like: Johnny has been begging for____ . (In this case let’s pretend Johnny wants the first person shooter game that 'ALL' his friends are playing.) After you ask if Johnny’s been eating his vegetables, can you please reiterate that he shouldn’t be playing video games rated M for mature content. Thank you! (Winky face.) Bing Bang Boom. Now you’ve got science on your side. When your kid gives you grief you can reply, aghast,'What kind of a mother would I be if I didn’t listen to your pediatrician?'."
So there you have it, an app your child has likely been absorbed in for the past few months, or years, actually has a sinister side that you never imagined possible.
Will this change the way you let your child interact online? Or, do you believe that they should be allowed free reign because you have trust in them?