Charities call on TikTok to do more to protect children

The app is accused of not acting quickly enough following damning research

TikTok has been urged to do more to protect the wellbeing of youngsters by strengthening its content moderation policies around harmful suicide and eating disorder material.

Charities including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Molly Rose Foundation have written an open letter to the popular app accusing it of not acting quickly enough following damning research about its algorithm’s negative impact on children.

The campaign group Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that the video-sharing site pushes self-harm and eating disorder content to teenagers within minutes of them expressing interest in the topics. This includes material on dangerously restrictive diets, pro-self-harm content and content romanticising suicide.

“We write to you as concerned researchers, activists and parents regarding the damaging effect of your platform’s content algorithm on the mental health and well-being of children,” the group wrote. “We believe it is your responsibility to take swift and decisive action to address this issue.”

The organisations asked the firm’s head of safety to take “meaningful action” including: improving moderation of eating disorder and suicide material; working with experts to develop a “comprehensive” approach to removing harmful content; supporting users who may be struggling with eating disorders or suicidal thoughts; and regular reporting on the steps being taken to address those issues.

The group claims TikTok has removed just seven of the 56 coded eating disorder hashtags that were flagged as dangerous by the CCDH in its research published in December. The center said there had been 1.6bn further views of those hashtags since November last year.

TikTok responded by telling the Guardian that “our community guidelines are clear that we do not allow the promotion, normalisation or glorification of eating disorders, and we have removed content mentioned in this report that violates these rules” – and that it seeks “to engage constructively with partners who have expertise on these complex issues, as we do with NGOs in the US and UK”.

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