Parents urged to monitor kids TikTok app use due to graphic content being shared

parenting 09/09/2020

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has issued a warning over a distressing video that is circulating social media app TikTok and other online platforms.

While TikTok is working to remove the clip, MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson is urging anyone who may be affected by the video to avoid the app for a few days. He also asks people not to share the video "under any circumstances".

He said parents and caregivers should take proactive steps to check in on young people and anyone who may be at risk of suicide.

"You don't need to mention the video, but it's never a bad time to check in," he said.

MHF said it's difficult to balance the need for parents and caregivers to be aware of any risks to their children with real concerns about alerting more people to the existence of content that may cause harm.

It also said New Zealanders should feel confident they can mitigate harm by having open and supportive conversations, particularly with young people and those who may be at risk of suicide.

MHF offers guidance for parents and caregivers on safely talking about suicide with young people, including what to do when someone sees it talked about in the media.

"It's up to us to bridge the gaps between adults and rangatahi and ensure we're there to help," Robinson said.

"Social media can be a huge positive for many young people - banning it isn't the answer. We need to ensure young people feel they can safely talk to the adults in their lives about distressing things they have seen or heard without fear of punishment or losing access to social media."

Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker said he has two pieces of advice for people who see content online that disturbs them. The first is for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about it, and the second is for people affected by content to speak to any agencies that specialise in helping people, such as Lifeline or Youthline.

"Those agencies are set up to talk to you about how you're feeling. We recommend that you do," Cocker told Newshub.

He also said it's important to report any distressing content online, either to the outlet directly or to Netsafe.

"If you see this content on social media… you are doing a significant service by reporting it."

Netsafe's online resources for young people exposed to any upsetting content say one of the "best strategies" is to encourage people disturbed by what they see to talk about it.

"Talking with your child about their experiences from the first time they go online can be helpful in keeping the lines of communication open for when something disturbs them. When you talk with them about school, friends or sport remember to ask about their online lives and friends too," its website says.

"While there is a place in young peoples' lives for filtering tools, as they develop they will want their freedom and privacy. It is quite easy to get around filtering or to use a computer, phone or games console to get online either at home or away from home (at school, at a friend's house or at the library) which is why education remains the most important thing you can do."

Update: Lee Hunter, General Manager of TikTok Australia and New Zealand has released a statemet in regards to the video circulating on their platforms -

"On Sunday night clips of a suicide that had originally been livestreamed on Facebook circulated on other platforms, including TikTok. 

This content is both distressing and a clear violation of our Community Guidelines and we have acted quickly and aggressively to detect and remove videos, and take action against accounts responsible for re-posting the content, through a mix of machine learning models and human moderation teams. We appreciate our community members who've reported content and warned others against watching, engaging, or sharing such videos on any platform out of respect for the person and their family. 

We have also updated related hashtags to surface a public service announcement, with resources for where people can seek help and access our Safety Centre.

We understand and share the concerns expressed by the Prime Minister, eSafety Commissioner and the wider community that materials like this are made and shared. We are working closely with local policymakers and relevant organisations to keep them informed. We understand the serious responsibility that we have, along with all platforms, to effectively address harmful content and we want to reiterate that the safety of our users is our utmost priority. 

If anyone in our community is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or concerned about someone who is, we encourage them to seek support, and we provide access to hotlines and support resources directly from our app and in our Safety Centre."

Where to find help and support: