The most popular app parents don’t know about
The odds are roughly 50/50 that one of your children currently has Musical.ly installed on their mobile device. There are currently 90 million users of the app, which allows people to make 15-second videos of themselves lip-syncing to popular music and audio bites. Estimates reveal that half of all U.S. teens are currently using the app, despite the fact that most parents have never heard of it.
But unlike other social media apps that are popular with tweens and teens, Musical.ly is different in that it is also being used by a far younger age range, including elementary school kids.
Why Musical.ly appeals to the very young
Internet experts like Gary Vaynerchuk have cited the app as the first of its kind to reach the under-10-year-old market: “Musical.ly is the first real social network that has reached an audience as young as first-graders. As cell phone, tablets and other devices are being owned and used at younger and younger ages, reaching this demographic is going to become increasingly influential.”
Many of its features, including a tool for posting videos that includes an entire category for songs from Disney films, seem tailor made for the very young. And while the thought of 6, 7 and 8-year-olds recording themselves lip-synching to Beauty and the Beast may sound innocent enough, when this is done on Muscial.ly, it can be downright dangerous.
How Musical.ly puts kids in contact with strangers
On Musical.ly, all accounts are public by default. Which means when your child posts a video, everyone can see it. Also, anyone can follow them. And while it doesn’t show the age of its users, until very recently, the app did have a feature that suggested fellow “musers” based on location.
When people download the app, which requires no age verification, the first prompt asks you to find friends by entering your cell phone number. A quick scroll through some of the millions of accounts is enough to terrify some parents. Children who look as young as 8 or 9 have up to 200,000 followers, while parents of children as young as 8 years old have reported strangers asking them for naked images via the app. And even when grooming is not at work, other parents have discovered that the app is often used as a measure of popularity on school campuses.
“All of the kids at my daughter’s middle school are really into Musical.ly,” says Tamara Green, mother of a tween girl who attends school in Santa Monica, California. “The kids are really into Musical.ly and it’s my worst nightmare… They post videos of themselves lip synching to songs and basically looking far too mature and sometimes highly suggestive. The entire school sees them and then comments on them. I let my daughter download the app without fully understanding the implications. I so regret that. I later made her delete that account.”
How to make Musical.ly safer
If your child is using the app, you need to adjust their settings to make their private account. With a private account, only approved followers can see their creations.
From your child’s device, open the app, go to Settings and enable Private Account.
Of equal importance it to disable location settings. Go to the settings page on their account and switch on “hide location info.”
Not quite. Even with a private account, your child’s profile is still public. What? Yep, other musers can still search for their account and see their profile photo, username and short bio. They can’t, however, see their videos unless approved as a follower.
Can kids disable these setting? Yes. And, even worse, the app both directly and indirectly encourages musers to expand their fan base. Much publicized tales of musers like Jacob Sartorius’s, a 14-year-old with 10 million followers on the app, feed the flames and encourage kids to expand beyond privacy settings.
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