App popular with preteens has risks

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An online safety advocate in West Michigan is urging parents to monitor their kids’ usage of a relatively new app.

It’s called “musical.ly” and it allows users to create and share lip sync videos.

“It’s the age of the kids that are using it that really bothers me,” said Chris McKenna, the founder of Protect Young Eyes. “Because it’s young kids, all the creeps flock to it.”

In 2015, McKenna alerted Target 8 that predators were using the kik app to target kids.

While McKenna says musical.ly is not inherently risky for kids, he wrote a blog post urging parents to pay close attention to how their child uses the lip sync app.

“It’s not high risk yet,” McKenna explained. “This is very preemptive, proactive.”

McKenna wrote the post after a Maryland mom reached out to him about her 13-year-old daughter’s experience with the app.

“We received a message… from a concerned mother whose daughter had done an innocent search in “musical.ly” for ‘dancing’ videos and discovered instead a video of a man masturbating,” McKenna wrote in the post.

That post prompted a Grandville mom to check out her daughter’s “musical.ly” account.

“I didn’t really know much about it,” Lisa Lytle said. “So I just got on there to see who she was following and who was following her.”

Lytle didn’t find anything disturbing but says she will be looking over her daughter’s shoulder more closely now.

Elizabeth Lytle, 12, has created dozens of lip sync dance videos, but she only recently switched the default public setting on her account to “private.” She also restricts her video watching to only the most popular “musers” because they’re much less likely to include inappropriate content.

“I don’t really search for anything,” Elizabeth explained. “I don’t watch the ‘most recent’ uploads because I know there could be dangerous stuff on there. I go to the most popular, where all the popular ‘musers’ are.”

McKenna urged parents to make sure their kids’ accounts are set to “private” so only pre-approved users can see your videos. He also suggested switching the app’s settings to hide your location and to allow only friends to direct message you.

The creators of “musical.ly says those are just some of the options the app provides to keep users safe.

“musical.ly prioritizes the safety of our users and strives to ensure that all “musical.ly” users can enjoy our application without abuse or threats from any other user,” the company said in a statement. “We take appropriate measures to expeditiously remove offensive or inappropriate content from the “musical.ly app. Our users can also block any other user from contacting them and they can report abusive users or communications to us through the application. Messages from friends are clearly identified from unknown senders so users can tell who is contacting them and can decide whether to engage. We are also implementing machine-learning technology to scan messages to block spam and inappropriate content.”

“Due to the volume of user uploads, “musical.ly” cannot automate searches for ‘inappropriate content’ but the upload of inappropriate content has not been an issue on the service,” the company continued. “Our videos are a maximum of only 15 seconds in duration and we have not had significant problems with users violating our terms and uploading offensive material.”

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