Monday, December 12, 2022

TikTok's trouble with teens


TikTok's trouble with teens

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Welcome to Bw Daily, the new Bloomberg Businessweek newsletter, where we’ll bring you interesting voices, great reporting and the magazine’s usual charm every weekday. Let us know what you think by emailing our editor here! If this has been forwarded to you, click here to sign up. And without further ado … 

Hi, it’s Olivia. Not so long ago, the hashtag #SaveJennyPopach was trending on TikTok, and I proceeded to watch way too many videos of a young girl twerking in a string bikini or licking lollipops while winking at the camera. (Caption: “When men can go to jail for being with you.”) I also watched hundreds of clips about how her account was problematic, or downright scary. People thought she’d been kidnapped and that she was being forced to perform for her 7 million followers. 

A few months ago, I met with Roselie Arritola, the then 15-year-old girl behind the Jenny Popach account. What I found shocked me, and culminated in today’s Bloomberg Businessweek story. TikTok, the world’s most popular app, has long had a problem with teen hypersexualization. The platform encourages its 1 billion users to perform, and its mysterious algorithm serves up personalized content that rewards shock value—giving creators who post surprising, edgy, even risky, videos more followers and fame.

Roselie Arritola, who goes by the name Jenny Popach on TikTok, dances for a post while her mother, Maria Ulacia, cheers her on.  Photographer: Melanie Metz for Bloomberg Businessweek

This reality has ignited a tug of war between watchdogs who believe TikTok needs to ramp up its moderation efforts lest it become an app that promotes child pornography, and teens who want TikTok to back off on the helicopter parenting and let them do their thing. The platform’s trust and safety team is stuck in the middle, trying to figure out what can stay up and what should come down. And, with 20 billion videos posted in the first half of this year, that has become an impossible task. The one thing both sides agree on: Whatever TikTok is doing now, it’s doing it wrong. Click here to read my story. —Olivia Carville, Bloomberg News investigative reporter


TikTok acknowledges that it can be a dangerous place for children and seeks to scrub risky videos. Still, some get through and kids get hurt. In the case of the “blackout challenge,” some have died. Now families are filing lawsuits against the company to try to answer the question: Who’s responsible for these deaths? Warning: Some viewers may find the subject matter of this video disturbing.

Read: “TikTok’s Viral Challenges Keep Luring Young Kids to Their Deaths” by Olivia Carville

Opening Lines

“For all the high-profile bosses who’ve ordered staff back to the office, plenty of US businesses are still embracing work from home, partly because it means they can hire workers where they’re more affordable.”

Read: “Some Bosses Embrace Work From Home to Keep Wages Down” by Michael Sasso

Photographer: Photo Illustration by 731; Photo: Getty Images

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Bw Daily starring Max Chafkin, and check out Businessweek for more!

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