How TikTok has been helping young people in Wales get through lockdown

Young people in Wales have told ITV News the video-sharing social media platform, TikTok, helped them get through lockdown.

Three young people from south Wales shared their experience of using the app to continue their hobbies, stay connected with friends, and even to make money during the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as police in Wales launched a campaign highlighting the dangers of social media as more young people spend time online during lockdown.

Gwent Police's 'Stop, Talk, Protect' campaign warns parents to monitor their children's activity following an increase in the number of reports of children sharing indecent images online.

Earlier this year ITV News discovered dozens of videos on TikTok that violates its terms of use, including drug misuse, overly sexual content and general law breaking.

Since launching worldwide in 2016 the app has gained more than 800 million users across the globe.

TikTok's popularity has soared during the coronavirus pandemic, with data obtained exclusively for ITV News revealing its UK gross revenue more than tripled between January and the end of April.

Along with huge revenue increases, the number of UK downloads also grew exponentially - an extra 800,000 in the same period.

16-year-old Marnie Davies, from Barry, loves to film herself dancing on TikTok. Credit: ITV Wales

One of the app's main attractions is its dance trends - users will choreograph a short dance routine for others to copy and share.

16-year-old Marnie Davies, from Barry, joined TikTok in November last year after all her friends started using it.

The teenager is a keen dancer and said the app has been a blessing while she was unable to attend her classes during the pandemic.

"TikTok I think has been really great for people throughout lockdown," she said.

"Especially the dance side of it because a lot of us don't have access to our dance studios so we can't go and practise, so the app gives you routines you can practise at home and share with other people around you."

While Marnie said she loves the opportunity to express herself, she is careful not to expose herself to potential dangers online.

"With any social media obviously there is a positive and negative side to it.

"Whenever something negative or scary comes up on your For You page, you can easily block it and report it so that you don't see that kind of content anymore."

Marnie said there can be positives and negatives to using social media. Credit: ITV Wales

She urged other young people using TikTok to think before they post.

"Don't post anything that could be misleading or perceived as negative by anyone else. You want to make sure there's nothing harmful about you or anyone else on the internet."

Her mother, Lesley Davies, said: "I think this is very much the new normal we find ourselves in, and thank goodness, because had the children and the teenagers not had access to online during lockdown they wouldn't have had the communication that they needed.

"It would have been more detrimental to wellbeing than any of the other risks."

She trusts Marnie to use social media responsibly but acknowledges the risk that she could be exposed to harmful content online.

"We're aware there are predators, there are unkind people. But we're also aware there are more good people in the world than bad people and that's the same online as it is anywhere."

17-year-old Caitlin Kyne, from Port Talbot, said she only started using TikTok to stay occupied during lockdown.

"I started learning dances and making videos, and to be honest I really do believe it's the app for me and my sense of humour," she said.

"I've never quite been the 'Insta girl', so an app where I can show my weird side freely was great for me."

The teenager now has more than 55,000 followers and 2.3 million likes on her videos. Many of her posts centre around Welsh culture and interests.

"When my videos started reaching people and bringing a bit of laughter to their days that just makes the whole experience much better for me, because I'm not just doing it for nothing, I'm potentially helping people."

James Lewis is a Cardiff-based artist who shares videos explaining how he creates his artwork on TikTok. Credit: ITV Wales

A 25-year-old Cardiff artist has found the opportunity to earn money through TikTok during what has been an uncertain time for many workers in Wales.

Users with a big following can be paid to promote businesses and brands on their page.

James Lewis began sharing his cartoon-themed artwork on the app in April last year. He now has three million followers and more than 75 million likes on his videos.

Now he has been announced as an early recipient of a new £54 million TikTok Creator Fund, helping turn his hobby into a fully-fledged career.

"The funding is going to be a game-changer. I've never been directly paid for the content that I produce.

"I've had brand collaborations and things but having this reccuring revenue stream is going to reduce so much stress, just knowing that by just posting content I'll be able to make a living."

James Lewis' cartoon-themed artwork has gained more than 75 million likes on TikTok. Credit: ITV Wales

James believes the app's popularity has derived from its algorithm, which allows people to see specific content they have previously shown interest in.

"It's truly diverse. My nan tries to check it out! People enjoy the app despite their age or where they're from, it's really cool."

Celebrities have even taken to the app to share moments of their lives, with some of the most avid users including Hollywood actor Will Smith, American singer songwriters Jason Derulo and Britney Spears, and London-born footballer David Beckham.

Users must be aged 13 or over to use TikTok, but people can access videos without needing to register.

Gwent Police Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman said parents may not be aware of the restrictions as the app has "come onto the scene and grown very, very quickly".

"From that point of view you could be younger and using that. You can view videos online there which means you could see harmful content," she said.

"The account itself is also public straight away, so you need to be able to turn on the privacy function within TikTok."

Gwent Police has seen a rise in the number of children being targeted through social media. Credit: PA Images

The force has seen a rise in the number of children being targeted online.

"Our young people haven't been able to go out and meet each other socially, so they've been using social media accounts," DCC Blakeman continued.

"There are lots out there, there are lots of new platforms. I'm a parent as well as a police officer, and it can be very confusing on occasion to keep up with it all.

"We are encouraging parents to have a conversation with their children about which platforms their using and getting them to stop, put the safety measures on and keep themselves protected."

Online safety resource Net Aware, run by the NSPCC and O2, said children are at a medium to high risk of exposure to bullying, violence, sexual content and drug and crime-related content on TikTok.

Service practitioners from across the country have suggested children as young as two are accessing social media. Credit: PA Images

Wise Kids Executive Director Dr Sangeet Bhullar said: "My main concern is ensuring children know how to detect risk, that they understand how public some of that content can be and the reach of it.

"TikTok is a very fun app. We work with a lot of young people and for us the key message we get about TikTok is it's an app where they can be social with their friends.

"Many of the young people we work with know about the privacy settings, but I guess there's a desire sometimes for likes and to make it big - to 'blow up' in the words of a young person I spoke with.

"We need to help them understand that that's not always necessarily going to go the way they expect, and they may get a lot of hate online.

"It's about helping them use it wisely."

TikTok said it has a range of settings to keep younger users safe, including controls for parents, a restricted mode to limit inappropriate content, and disabling direct messaging for under 16s.

In response to the findings in May, TikTok 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."