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How TikTok is creating a safe, fun and creative environment for teens

TikTok and Media Smart produced a collection of resources to help teenagers understand how advertising works on the platform

People from all walks of life flock to TikTok to be entertained and share their creativity with others, following areas of culture that reflect their passions and interests. From dance challenges to beauty hacks, home renovations to #BookTok recommendations, there’s a community for everyone on TikTok. And TikTok’s goal is to foster a safe and welcoming platform for these vibrant, diverse communities – especially for the young people who use it.

That’s why TikTok has partnered with Media Smart – a non-profit organization that educates young people about online advertising – to further its mission to create a safe, trusted platform to help elevate teenagers’ TikTok experiences.

Through the partnership, TikTok and Media Smart produced a collection of resources to help teenagers understand how advertising works on the platform, as well as the best ways to keep safe. By distributing resources to 50,000 teachers in 4,000 secondary schools, young people now have greater access to the information and controls they need to be able to manage their experience, including advertising.

The resource was developed in response to research conducted by Livity, an agency specializing in youth culture. The research sought to better understand the perceptions and advertising experiences of young people (13-17 years old), their parents and teachers across the UK.

TikTok likens the differences in expectations by age groups to the classic film Mary Poppins, which highlights the radically different expectations of Mr Banks and his children on the attributes that make up an ideal nanny. The lesson being that it’s important to listen to teenagers and incorporate their voices to better support them and meet their needs.

The research showed that young people felt that they have high levels of control on TikTok, as it is down to them to decide whether they watch or skip a piece of content and many will simply skip ads they don’t like. However, knowledge of the various tools designed to keep them safe on TikTok and have more control over ads they are served was low.

Meanwhile, awareness of TikTok advertising rules is low among both parents and young people, who perceived digital advertising to be less regulated than other channels, and they had almost zero knowledge of the type of adverts that were banned on TikTok for users’ safety. The resources developed by Media Smart seek to address this knowledge gap.

“At TikTok, we have no higher priority than ensuring that we are giving our community – especially young people – a positive experience and a platform where they feel safe to express themselves,” said Alexandra Evans, head of safety public policy for Europe at TikTok. “From household names all the way through to small businesses, brands are a key part of TikTok, producing some of the best creativity the platform has to offer, and it’s important that the younger generation can clearly differentiate between advertising and organic content. By launching these resources with Media Smart, we are providing valuable insight into the commercial side of TikTok, delivered in a fun and engaging way.”

Designed with teens in mind

Armed with the findings from this research, TikTok and Media Smart have developed a suite of resources to educate young people and help develop their critical digital awareness skills so that the time they spend on the platform is a positive and safe experience, while at the same time encouraging more meaningful conversations and understanding by amplifying these resources to educate parents/guardians and teachers about the platform and the tools available.

In line with the personality of the TikTok platform, the resources have been built with teens in mind to be fun, immersive, video and creator-led, with materials featuring TikTok creators Akafi Ali, Lily Rose, Molly Marsh and Mr MBA. The resources cover three key topics:

1. How TikTok works – how TikTok serves relevant content to its audience and how advertisers use this and different ad formats to reach specific markets.

2. How brands and creators behave – what TikTok is doing to ensure that advertising is visibly identifiable, explaining how creators make branded content and how to identify content that could be misleading.

3. What young people can do to stay safe – specific actions that teens can take to manage their experience online and their data using the tools TikTok makes available to them.

Dedication to global trust and safety

With three safety hubs established in Singapore, San Francisco and Dublin, TikTok has significantly stepped up its global trust and safety strategy to ensure it provides a safe environment for users. What started out as a team of 20 people in the Dublin hub in 2020 has expanded to a team of 1,100 supported by a network of thousands of moderators worldwide and growing.

TikTok can detect and remove content rapidly and at scale through a combination of innovative machine learning solutions, with its human moderation team providing round-the-clock coverage with subject experts on hand to make precision decisions on nuanced issues.

The company treats the safety of minors very seriously, with industry-leading policies and product updates that further enhance the protective measures in place. Notably, this includes switching all accounts for under-16s to private by default, not allowing external images and videos to be shared in direct messages (DMs) and publicizing underage removals globally. This also extends to launching new tools to combat bullying, establishing its own EU Transparency and Accountability Center and TikTok joining the Technology Coalition to protect children from online sexual exploitation and abuse.

In addition, to ensure that any advertising on TikTok is fully disclosed in accordance with local guidelines, TikTok developed the branded content toggle. This enables creators to prominently and seamlessly disclose when there is an exchange of value to influence the creation of the post. When enabled, the toggle adds a disclosure (for example, #Ad) to the description of the video. If creators include a disclosure in the video description (for example, #Ad or #Sponsored), a pop-up will appear on the video prompting the creator to turn on the toggle.

TikTok also has strict advertising guidelines that prohibit ad creatives and landing pages that promote negative or unhealthy body images or exploit insecurities to conform to certain beauty ideals or standards.

“TikTok may only be three years old, but we’ve worked hard to establish our users’ trust across our worldwide community,” adds Evans. “We’re committed to promoting creativity and individuality and building an online space where everyone can speak their truth in a safe, supported environment.

“These resources have been designed to educate both teens and parents on the tools available to them to stay safe on TikTok, ultimately creating a more trusted, transparent experience for everyone. But to do that authentically, we need to take into account the voice of younger users when building a platform they have access to.”

To learn more about TikTok’s media literacy and digital wellbeing project, go to mediasmart.uk.com/tiktok-adverts-creators-and-you/

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