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3 Troubling TikTok Challenges Every Parent Should Know About

Parents vs. The Algorithm

Key points

  • The Blackout Challenge encourages users to engage in self-strangulation until they pass out.
  • The Orbeez Challenge encourages viewers to place the Orbeez in airsoft guns and shoot them at unsuspecting targets.
  • The Invisible Challenge may lead to hackers who can access credit cards, passwords, crypto wallets.
Prostock Studio/Shutterstock
Source: Prostock Studio/Shutterstock

Tiktok is now available in 154 countries worldwide. In the United States alone, in 2022, TikTok reached 136 million users. Of the 136 million annual users, the largest demographic was aged 10-19, or 25 percent of their U.S. demographic. TikTok community guidelines state, “The full TikTok experience is for people 13 and older, and we actively remove accounts of people we suspect are under this age.” However, they curiously made an exception for children in the U.S. “In the U.S., we accommodate people under 13 in TikTok for Younger Users, a limited app experience designed specifically for this audience with additional safeguards and privacy protections.”

The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, so what makes TikTok “tick?” The “For You Page,” also known as the FYP, is an artificial intelligence (AI) generated feed of videos based on the content the user has liked or engaged with in the past. This is fierce and frightening competition for parents. One year ago, New York Times columnist Ben Smith interviewed Guillaume Chaslot, the founder of Algo Transparency. In the interview, Chaslot stated, “I think it’s a crazy idea to let TikTok’s algorithm steer the life of our kids. Each video a kid watches, TikTok gains a piece of information on him. In a few hours, the algorithm can detect his musical tastes, his physical attraction, if he’s depressed, if he might be into drugs, and other sensitive information. There’s a high risk that some of this information will be used against him.” Enter TikTok “Challenges.”

Tiktok Challenges are viral competitions on the app which can be created by virtually anyone who can conjure up a catchy hashtag and an idea. It’s important to note that TikTok safety guidelines state, “We do not permit users to share content depicting, promoting, normalizing or glorifying dangerous acts that may lead to serious injury or death. We also do not allow content, which promotes or endorses collective participation in dangerous or harmful activities that violate any aspect of our Community Guidelines.” Essentially, TikTok will take action once they are made aware of an infraction, but it’s been proven that they also cannot compete with the algorithm. Challenges can garner millions of views and be shared on multiple media platforms in just a few hours. Below are three of the most recent chaos-causing challenges on the app and how to keep your kids safe.

1. Blackout Challenge

Also referred to as the “pass-out challenge” or the “fainting game.” The viral trend encourages users to engage in self-strangulation until they pass out to achieve an altered state of consciousness by means of oxygen deprivation. If you’re a millennial parent, you may remember hearing about this deadly challenge in high school. It’s back with a vengeance. Globally, this challenge has claimed the lives of at least 15 children in the last 18 months. Most victims were under the age of 12.

2. Orbeez Challenge

Who could have thought it was possible to weaponize Orbeez? Leave it to TikTok. Orbeez beads, when mixed with water, expand into gelatinous balls, which were originally intended to be used as sensory toys. The challenge encourages viewers to place the Orbeez in airsoft guns and shoot them at unsuspecting targets. Victims have reported being attacked while driving on highways or walking down the street in their neighborhood. Police in Baltimore, Tampa, and Philadelphia are imploring the public to educate their children about the dangers of participating in the challenge. The airsoft or B.B. guns could be mistaken for real weapons by police or victims; a permanent physical injury could result from the force of the shot, and drivers could be driven off the road. Police also state that participants could face criminal charges, including disorderly conduct, battery, and assault with a deadly weapon.

3. The Invisible Challenge

Cybercriminals have also found an opportunity to spread malware via a challenge. The “invisible challenge” allows people to use a filter called the “invisible body,” which leaves an outline of a person’s silhouette. Think Harry Potter and the invisibility cloak. All fun and games, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, it’s been made public that some users are naked while using the filter leading the curious to try and “reverse” the effect to see what the person looks like behind the optical illusion. Hackers have falsely promoted their own videos containing links on how to “unfilter” the invisible filter. Once the link is clicked, hackers can access credit cards, passwords, crypto wallets, and more.

How to Set Up Parental Controls on TikTok

Family Pairing Mode

TikTok offers “Digital Well-being Tools” that can be accessed by parents. One option is the “restricted” mode, which removes content that may be inappropriate for users under 13, such as nudity and violence. Though necessary, would any of the challenges mentioned above fit those criteria? Family safety mode is the most comprehensive and customizable option available. Family Pairing links a child’s TikTok account to their parent’s accounts. This allows parents to see the content their child is viewing or engaging with, select time limitations for app users on multiple devices, control privacy settings, and even decide whether their child can search for videos, hashtags, or live videos. Below are the instructions provided by TikTok.

How to Set Up Family Pairing

To link parent and teen accounts:

  1. In the TikTok app, tap Profile at the bottom.
  2. Tap the Menu button at the top.
  3. Tap Settings and privacy, then tap Family Pairing.
  4. Tap Parent or Teen.
  5. Follow the steps in the app to link accounts.

How to Manage Family Pairing Controls
To manage or view Family Pairing controls:

  1. In the TikTok app, tap Profile at the bottom.
  2. Tap the Menu button at the top.
  3. Tap Settings and privacy, then tap Family Pairing.
  4. Select the account you want to manage.
  5. Update the controls, as needed.
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