Cyber Mum – What’s In a Musical.ly Video Clip?

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I often get asked by parents which Apps they should be allowing their kids to be using, and  one of the most popular Apps I’m asked about at the moment is Musical.ly.

All apps pose significant risks to kids, so my role in advising parents is all about reducing the risks. I try to do this by helping parents make informed decisions and help them put some safety measures in place. In the digital age, passive parenting is not an option. I believe parents who are observant, engaged and informed often have kids who learn to use technology well.

So let’s talk about Musical.ly this month.  Musical.ly is a social media music app where users can watch user generated lip sync videos and create their own music videos. It is hugely popular with young teens but there is an alarming number of young children also using this app.

In the App Store, Musical.ly is Rated 12+ for the following reasons, as disclosed by the app developer: Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References, Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes, Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity, Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence, Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humour.

However, Musical.ly’s “Terms of Use” specifically state that: “THE SERVICE IS NOT FOR PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF 13 OR FOR ANY USERS PREVIOUSLY SUSPENDED OR REMOVED FROM THE SERVICE BY MUSICAL.LY. IF YOU ARE UNDER 13 YEARS OF AGE, YOU MUST NOT USE OR ACCESS THE SERVICE AT ANY TIME OR IN ANY MANNER. Furthermore, by using the Service you affirm that you are at least 18 years of age.”  Ummm? … So in my opinion, it would appear that neither Musical.ly nor the App Store have any idea what the rating is or should be! I think parents therefore need to interpret this to say we most probably need to take precautions and ensure we at least review and discuss this app with our kids. Dangers for parents to consider:

  • By default, all Musical.ly accounts are public.
  • By default, the “hide location info” feature is switched off, which means users share their location when they post a video.
  • Increasing incidence of pornographic material on Musical.ly due to users uploading their own content which appears to be creating a culture amongst teens to do similar.
  • 18+ content in the songs lyrics, including swearing and adult concepts in the provided music e.g. there is no profanity filter.
  • Musical.ly users can search for other users to view or follow near their own location/city.
  • User generated videos can be viewed and shared onto other social media and messaging apps, increasing exposure, which teens strive for and parents worry about.
  • Users can comment on videos; this leaves the potential for online bullying or negative comments.
  • Users can publicise their messenger usernames or social media profiles on their Musical.ly profile.
  • Users can search hashtags and easily stumble across inappropriate content.

The last thing I want to do is be the person who ruins your child’s fun. However, my advice to parents is that younger teens should only be able to use the app when privacy settings are set up so that they only share with friends, and therefore limit exposure, which is not dissimilar to my thoughts on Instagram and Facebook. I personally feel the adult content in the music is not suitable for younger teens or children, nor is the increasing amount of inappropriate content, so you need make your own judgement call on this. What I think is disturbing is that Musical.ly is trending with under age users in primary school, which is seeing younger kids at risk of being exposed to inappropriate content and as a result, younger kids seem to be actively participating in creating it. There is also a huge risk for users who publicise their other social media accounts or messenger usernames, leaving them open to be approached by strangers.

My view is that while at a surface level Musical.ly is fun and could be used in a controlled environment with parental supervision, it is definitely NOT for underage kids, and younger teens need supervision on this app with the privacy settings set up. The app is stacks of fun and if used appropriately, the level of creativity displayed by some kids is very impressive. So parents, stay involved if you’re going to let your teen use Musical.ly!

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