A new TikTok report indicates that 31% of teens have felt a negative impact of internet hoaxes and, of those, 63% said the negative impact was on their mental health.

The study, which surveyed more than 10,000 teens, parents, and teachers from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Indonesia, Mexico, UK, US, and Vietnam shows that 56% of parents cannot mention a hoax unless a teen had mentioned it first, and 37% of parents felt hoaxes are difficult to talk about without prompting interest in them.

The report, written by Dr. Zoe Hilton, Director and Founder of Praesidio Safeguarding convened a panel of 12 leading youth safety experts from around the world to review and provide input into his report.

He partnered with Dr. Richard Graham, a clinical child psychiatrist specializing in healthy adolescent development, and Dr. Gretchen Brion-Meisels, a behavioral scientist specializing in risk prevention in adolescence.

When asked to describe a recent online challenge, 48% of teens said recent challenges they had seen were safe, categorizing them as fun or light-hearted, 32% included some risk but were still safe, 14% were described as risky and dangerous, while 3% of online challenges were described as very dangerous. Just 0.3% of teens said they had taken part in a challenge they categorised as really dangerous.

Teens use a range of methods to understand the risks that may be involved in online challenges before they participate, such as watching videos of others taking part in challenges, reading comments, and speaking to friends – 46% said they want “good information on risks more widely” and “information on what is too far.”

The survey notes that hoaxes are experienced through online challenges or dares which typically involve people recording themselves doing something difficult, which they share online to encourage others to repeat.

The majority are fun and safe, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge or #BlindingLightsChallenge, but some promote harmful behaviors including the risk of serious injury such as the #MilkCrateChallenge.

Dangerous hoaxes can cause suicide and self-harm, and intentionally planted to trick people into believing something that isn’t true aiming to spread fear and panic.

To build on existing safeguards, TikTok said it has been removing warning videos with the research showing how warnings about self-harm hoaxes – even if shared with the best of intentions – can impact the well-being of teens since they often treat the hoax as real.

“While TikTok already removes and takes action to limit the spread of hoaxes, to further protect the community we will start to remove alarmist warnings. We will continue to allow conversations to take place that seek to dispel panic and promote accurate information,” Tiktok said in a statement.

The platform has created technology that alerts safety teams to sudden increases in violating content linked to hashtags, and we have now expanded this to also capture potentially dangerous behavior.

TikTok has developed a new resource for the Safety Center dedicated to online challenges and hoaxes. This includes advice for caregivers that aim to address the uncertainty they expressed about discussing this topic with their teens.

“Should community members attempt to search our platform for content related to harmful challenges or hoaxes, a new prompt will encourage community members to visit our Safety Center to learn more. And should people search for hoaxes linked to suicide or self-harm, TikTok will now display additional resources in search.”

Through this first step and the encouragement of discourse on the subject, TikTok said it aims to use this work with world-leading experts to make a thoughtful contribution to safety and safeguarding of families online.

Designed to advance joy, connection and inspiration to millions around the world, the platform said it is fostering an environment where creative expression requires that the platform also prioritizes safety for the online community, and especially younger community members.

“In this vein, TikTok shares the interests of parents and caregivers in this mission, and is committed to listening and working with external experts to inform its efforts.”


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