Musical.ly is like MTV meets Lip Sync Battle meets Instagram. It’s a new app that lets users – called “musers” in the community – record short video clips of themselves lip syncing or dancing to popular songs or movie scenes, then upload those clips to a feed similar to Instagram.
The app inspires fun and goofiness, which is why kids are loving it. However, the Shanghai-based company doesn’t target users under 13. In fact, it prohibits them. Yet some of the top ranked musers look to be in elementary school and they’re garnering in millions of likes (called hearts). Musical.ly knows they have a younger fan base. Of over 100 million users, most are in the 13-20 age bracket, the company says.
But with so many kids under 13 obsessed with the app, that leaves Musical.ly in a weird position. Websites and apps that market to children under 13 “must meet federal requirements regarding the collection and sharing of personal information” (such as names, photos, videos and user names). The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, or Coppa, is behind these regulations, as enacted by the Federal Trade Commission.
Since Musical.ly doesn’t collect info on users ages, “Enforcement [of Coppa regulations] is both difficult and relatively rare.” Some companies avoid collecting info to bypass regulations because Coppa doesn’t require social networks to screen age, nor does it hold a company accountable for a child under 13 who makes an account (or a parent makes one for them).
The rising popularity of a pre-teen audience might lead Musical.ly to reexamine their own approach. (There’s now a section of their support pages directed to parents.) But it doesn’t seem they’re going to change gears and target the under 13 group any time soon, or at all.
“We really see ourselves as a real social network, and as a network for different age groups,” said Alex Hofmann, president of Musical.ly.
Is Musical.ly a safe app for kids? Parents should consider the following issues:
Under the Terms of Service, children under 13 cannot use the app.
Some songs have explicit language or inappropriate content.
Make sure your child’s account is set to “private”.
Turn on the “hide location info” option.
Make sure your child knows all their followers personally. If they don’t, there’s an option to block other users.
Make sure your child follows only appropriate accounts.
Convey to your child that self-esteem doesn’t come from how many “hearts” they have.
A majority of parents on Common Sense Media have voted Musical.ly as only appropriate for ages 16 and older. Others have reasons for letting their younger children have an account. The most important thing to remember is how this Internet-connected world will affect children, and how you can help ensure their safety online.