Popular app raises parents’ concerns
Musical.ly, a social network where “musers” post videos of themselves lip synching or dancing to their favourite tunes, is quickly becoming a major player in social media. Launched in August 2014, the Chinese app built its success by targeting American teenagers. But musical.ly’s popularity with the teen demographic has also attracted some unwanted attention. Here’s what parents should know about this fast-rising platform.
In a nutshell, musical.ly combines three things that many teenagers love: music, video and social media. The app lets users (a.k.a. “musers”) create and edit short videos (originally 15 seconds, but now as long as a minute) and combine those videos with clips of popular songs. Other bells and whistles are being added as the app develops and grows in popularity. For example, live.ly, a live-video-streaming platform similar to Facebook Live, was launched in 2016 and quickly gained a lot of buzz, rising to the top of Apple’s app store within days.
But musical.ly isn’t just about making videos. At its heart, the app is a social-media platform, connecting people through the videos they create. Musers can follow other musers and like or comment on their videos. They can even perform together, digitally, using a duet function. Some have taken the app beyond music, recording comedy routines or animal videos. The use of hashtags and the ability to post videos on other social networks means that a well-made or timely video can potentially be seen and shared by millions of people. The end result is that musical.ly has become enormously popular in a short period of time. As of the end of 2016, the app had over 130 million registered users, 40 million of whom were daily active users.
Musical.ly’s popularity also has a darker side. Concerns have been raised about the provocative and suggestive nature of some content, including song lyrics and videos. Privacy, cyberbullying and fake profiles have also become issues, as they have on other popular social networks. What is different about musical.ly, though, is the young age of its target demographic. As tech-savvy as teenagers tend to be, younger ones may still be naïve about the dangers of online exposure. Videos on musical.ly have the potential to spread quickly, possibly for wrong or embarrassing reasons. Even worse, in the past year a number of parents in the U.S. and U.K. have come forward with claims that their children were targeted by pedophiles while using the app. While it’s difficult to confirm the veracity of these claims, the potential for danger is certainly there.
Musical.ly makes an effort to monitor users and ensure a safe and fun experience for all. However, with so many registered profiles, much of that responsibility falls on parents. So what can parents do, short of constantly watching over their kids’ shoulders? One thing is to check out the app itself. Parents should find out what it’s about and get to know its features. They can also visit the company’s tumblr (musicallyapp.tumblr.com, or click on “about” at the bottom of the website’s main page), where they can find more info and safety guidelines.
Another important thing that parents can do is ensure that their tweens and teens understand the importance of privacy settings and how to use them. These control who can follow or contact them, as well as who can view and comment on their videos. Parents are also encouraged to teach their kids to approve only the followers they know in real life and to make sure they remove identifying information from bios, usernames and any content they share. Lastly, there’s the tried-and-true strategy of monitoring your children’s online activity—not just on musical.ly, but on the Internet in general. A little awareness of the fact they’re being supervised will go a long way to letting kids get the most out of their Internet experience while still making safe decisions. t8n
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