Any app or game that connects to the internet is a potential risk for kids, but what about the popular musical.ly app? You might have heard stories of kids being groomed through the app and inappropriate requests for nude photos. This happened back in 2016 with musical.ly.
What is musical.ly?
It’s an app aimed at teens that allows them to lip-sync with their favourite artists’ songs and share the short videos with friends.
For the most part this is harmless, but the app includes a library of song clips that could include lyrics inappropriate for young children and there’s no way to block that: kids can choose whichever clip they want to sing along to.
The main issue from a parents’ point of view is that, like many social media apps, musical.ly defaults to posting everything publicly, which means anyone can watch and comment on a video your child creates.
As comments aren’t screened by the app’s maker, another user could leave an offensive comment on your child’s video. It’s the same with other apps including Instagram and Twitter where anyone can view your content and follow you.
Videos themselves aren’t curated before they appear on the app, and while you’re unlikely to find anything unsavoury in the ‘Featured’ section of the app, it is possible to find stuff you wouldn’t want your kids seeing.
The app is rated as 12+ and, among other content, can include ‘infrequent / mild sexual content and nudity’.
On musical.ly’s page for parents, it is very clear that you should not allow children under 13 to use the app. But, as is the case with many 'social' apps, this rule is not well observed. A colleague at Tech Advisor tells me that most of the girls aged 9-10 in his daughter's Year 5 primary school class (in the US, 4th grade in elementary school) were avid users of musical.ly.
The app is tremendous fun but the father of the girl noted numerous occasions when his daughter was followed by 14 year-old boys, and the thought of them watching a child dancing and miming in her bedroom to often teen-to-adult songs made him and his wife decide to delete the app from their daughter's device.
Can I make musically safe for kids? A parents' guide
Not entirely, no. You can talk to you child and make sure they set their account to private. This means only their followers can see their videos. Once an account is private you (or, riskily, the child) must approve follower requests, which gives more control over who can see the videos.
Even with a private account, a user’s profile is still publicly visible and this can include their real name, their photos, bio and location. These are major child-safety alarm bells in the eyes of most internet-safety experts.
So it’s worth using the ‘hide location info’ in settings when you enable the private account.
The app asks if you want to link other social media accounts when you first use it, so it’s important to make sure your child doesn’t reveal too much personal information when they’re creating profiles in such apps.
Many use location to find new friends in the same area, and this can be a risk as people aren’t always who they say they are. Unless you supervise your child when they use the app, you can’t be sure who they’re following, what they’re watching or which followers they’re approving.
Ultimately, you need to decide if you’re happy for your child to use musically. This may be a simple no, or it could be a ‘yes, but only with supervision’. Whatever your decision, it’s crucial to talk to your child about the risks and dangers of social media and the internet in general as well as laying down ground rules with them, and that they understand those are in place to keep them safe.
While musical.ly is great fun, and it seems cruel to stop your kids having the pleasure of it, there are major safety fears around the followers and location features. And parents must obey the 13 age rating at the minimum.
If you’re unsure yourself of the risks and sensible ground rules, check out our full guide to keeping kids safe on the internet.