Cliona Curley, Programme Director at CyberSafeIreland reflects on one of the latest apps to appeal to Irish pre-teens…
When we started our schools programme in January 2016, I had never heard of Musical.ly. It has since emerged as one of the most popular apps among the 9-13 year old children that we’ve met in Dublin and Wicklow schools. This is despite the fact that the official minimum age for using it is 13 years old.
Before we look at some of the risks associated with apps like Musical.ly, let’s look at what it is and why kids like this social media app that has only been around since 2014. It’s used to create short music videos by lip-synching to selected music, along with dance movements that only musers (Musical.ly users) get how to do. It’s a bit like karaoke but with way more street cred. Note to parents: please do not try this at home. Your kids will be mortified.
Like most of the social media apps that kids are using, it’s ridiculously entertaining. Kids also see the opportunities for fame and fortune. Just as they follow people on YouTube and want to be like them, they can also see the success of some of the early adopters of Musical.ly. One example is 15 year old @babyariel (shown left) who started making music videos on Musical.ly last summer and now has over 10 million fans and her own brand of lipstick.
Okay so let’s talk about the risks. As with any social media app, there are aspects of Musical.ly that parents should consider before deciding if it is an appropriate platform for their child to be using. For instance, if your child hasn’t applied the relevant privacy settings, or has approved followers (fans) that they don’t know in real life, then complete strangers could potentially contact them via the private messaging service, view their videos or find out personal information about them. Also kids love to follow the really popular musers, but might be taken in by fake celebrity muser profiles. A recent investigation in the UK concerning a paedophile who used fake social media profiles to meet and groom children has highlighted this danger.
Bullying can be an issue on Musical.ly, as on any social media app. Kids often tell us about mean comments that have been left about their videos but bullying can also occur using the private messaging functionality which may be harder for parents to monitor. Many parents worry about their children being bullied but consider also the possibility of your child being a bully. Often kids don’t realise that “liking” or sharing something nasty means that they are taking part in the bullying. These are all important conversations to have.
There have been reports of explicit videos involving pornographic content on Musical.ly. I haven’t personally come across any but I have certainly found many videos with young kids lip synching to very explicit lyrics. It’s also not uncommon to see very young kids acting in a sexualised manner in their videos.
If your child is using Musical.ly, you may find our Top Tips for Musical.ly (below) helpful to start the conversation and agree some ground rules. As parents, we need to know the risks associated with any app or game, but it helps if you can understand what it is about an app that they love so much. Musical.ly can undoubtedly be lots of fun. And for one 13 year old it is a lot more than that. Kaylee Halko (shown right), who suffers from a rare genetic condition and had previously been badly bullied online, has found millions of supportive fans on Musical.ly. At that vulnerable age when appearance matters so desperately to kids and their peers, she has found that talent counts for more, and she continues to muse with the best of them.
Our Top Tips for using Musical.ly
- Use the privacy settings. Make sure that your child applies these three settings on their profile:
- Set the account to private
- Only allow friends to direct.ly them, i.e. send them a private message
- Hide location info
- Be aware that even if an account is private, everyone can still see the profile photo and bio. It is better if kids don’t use real profile photos or give away any personal information in their bios, including usernames for Instagram, Snapchat etc. Talk to them about the dangers of revealing personal information in their videos also, e.g. a street sign in the background that might indicate where they live.
- Review their friends (fans) list and agree that they don’t allow people that they don’t know in real life to follow them
- If they are following celeb musers, check whether you are happy that the videos are appropriate for your child. Also ensure that they are not following (or accepting friend requests) from fake celebrity profiles. On Musical.ly you know that a profile of a popular muser or celebrity is genuine if it has a little crown attached onto the profile pic. Do a search on “babyariel” to see an example of this.
- Keep an eye on what your child is posting and have the conversation as many times as you can about what is okay and what is not. Discuss how words and actions can impact on others.
- Ensure that your child knows how to use the Report Abuse functionality and how to block other musers. Above all, remind your child that no matter what, they can always come to you if they need help.
- Get stuck in yourself. Make a video with them (if they’ll let you!!) or at least get them to show you their favorite videos and musers.
NOTE: images of BabyAriel and Kaylee Halko shown are screenshots of their Musical.ly profiles