Parents shock after ITV News discovers dozens of inappropriate videos on TikTok

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry and words by ITV News producer Nathan Lee

ITV News has discovered dozens of videos on the content sharing app TikTok that violates its terms of use, including drug misuse, overly sexual content and general law breaking - as TikTok reaps the rewards of people spending more time on social media during lockdown.

The videos - viewable and created by children as young as 13 - were taken down by TikTok after ITV News made it aware. In the videos, too graphic to show our viewers - it was clear to see drug taking and its effects, school children talking about sending 'nudes' and discussing other sexual activity, as well as several other violations of TikTok's terms of use.

We showed the content we found on TikTok to two parents who are concerned about their children's use of the video sharing app.

Kate Aspinwall and Mark Green both have children around the age you have to be to have your own Tik Tok account - 13.

Ms Aspinwall said: "That's tough to watch young girls in school uniform with braces... It's just really upsetting."

  • Parents describe watching disturbing footage posted on TikTok

The violations come as TikTok's popularity, and revenue, soared during the coronavirus pandemic.

Exclusive research conducted on behalf of ITV News shows that TikTok's UK gross revenue has more than tripled since January until the end of April, after a UK wide lockdown was announced in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 23rd.

Along with huge revenue increases, the number of UK downloads also grew exponentially, an extra 800,000 in the same period. The figures above show a clear spike in downloads and revenue, not just across the UK but globally as the pandemic took hold.

All the while, videos like the ones we identified were still online - able to be viewed by millions of children across the world.

Of course, there are are millions of users that enjoy TikTok, creating their own videos whether that be miming to the newest songs or re-creating the latest dance crazes.

  • Twins Max and Harvey Mills on why TikTok is so great

Users like Max and Harvey Mills, from Berkshire. The 17 year old brothers are TikTok sensations - along with their 11 year old sister Tilly (whose parents run her account). The brothers have amassed 6 million fans and an unfathomable 750m likes on their videos, in which they sing original and cover songs and document their family life.

Speaking from the garden of their family home in Berkshire, and in between takes of their latest video, they addressed the concerns on putting content online to millions of people:

As social media companies continue to count the rewards of lockdown and an increase of time spent on our handsets, the question or debate about staying safe online has again asked to be answered.

  • Twins Max and Harvey Mills describe responsibilities they have to others on TikTok

Emily Taylor is an expert in internet governance and she says platforms that make money from advertising targeted at their users, have a duty of care.

"When you have a lot of children using your platform you've got to be really careful that you're looking after them," she said. "Are they also being exploited not just potentially by sexual predators but also advertisers who are inferring a great deal about these young people by their online actions?"

Social media apps at the moment, are self regulatory. The government has been looking at the issue of regulation for years - looking at whether an independent body should investigate potential breaches of use, rather than the company itself - much like the way Ofcom does for broadcasting.

Graph showing the increase in TikTok downloads in the UK. Credit: ITV News

In February, the government announced it was minded to appoint Ofcom as the regulator of social media to enforce a statutory duty of care to protect users from harmful content, but nearly 4 months down the line there has still been no official announcement of a regulator.

A DCMS spokesperson told ITV News: "We expect online platforms to promptly remove illegal content and to enforce their own terms and conditions consistently and transparently.

“We are developing world-leading laws to make the UK a safer place to be online and this includes a duty of care on online companies, overseen by an independent regulator, to hold them to account."

The government went on to tell us that it is continuing to develop the legislation to make the UK the "safest place in the world to be online" and that despite the challenges coronavirus is presenting, it expects a policy decision and regulatory framework to be published later this year.

ITV News contacted TikTok for an interview as part of our report, but a statement was sent instead.

The social media firm said: "Keeping people on TikTok safe is a top priority and our Community Guidelines make clear what is not acceptable on our platform. All videos that violated our Community Guidelines have now been removed.

"While we're open about the fact that we won't always catch every instance of inappropriate content, we're constantly enhancing our protective measures to ensure TikTok remains a platform for positive creative expression."