Parents have been warned to keep their children off TikTok today after a shocking video purporting to show a man taking his own life was uploaded.
Cybersecurity expert and child safety advocate Susan McLean posted a warning on Facebook about the horrifying video, advising parents the clip can also be hidden in innocent looking content such as cat videos.
“Please ensure you do not allow your older teens on the app today if they have it,” Mrs McLean wrote on Facebook.
“It is apparently now on Instagram but they are at least removing accounts posting it.
“Check in with your kids today, they most likely will know about it.
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The man is reportedly Mississippi man Ronnie McNutt, whose church confirmed his death on its own Facebook page, describing him as “very caring, committed, loyal, dependable, and eccentric”.
“He served his church faithfully and was loved by many,” the Celebration Church Tupelo added.
It appears the video was first streamed live on Facebook on August 31, but now recordings have surfaced on Instagram and TikTok, and the platforms are struggling to keep it off.
“Our systems have been automatically detecting and flagging these clips for violating our policies against content that displays, praises, glorifies, or promotes suicide,” a statement from TikTok said.
“We are banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips, and we appreciate our community members who’ve reported content and warned others against watching, engaging, or sharing such videos on any platform out of respect for the person and their family.”
TikTok’s statement added that it provides access to support hotlines from inside the app.
A Facebook spokesperson told news.com.au the company “removed the original video from Facebook last month on the day it was streamed and have used automation technology to remove copies and uploads since that time,” adding its “thoughts remain with Ronnie’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
This is not the first time Facebook’s live streaming platform has been used in horrific ways that violate its policies, including by people broadcasting themselves ending their own lives, but the company didn’t answer when asked whether Facebook has considered updating those policies in light of this.
Mrs McLean was in the middle of talking to a 200-plus strong cohort of year five and six students when contacted about the video.
“A large number of them were really upset when I said they’re legally not allowed to be on TikTok because they’re not 13,” Mrs McLean told news.com.au when she called back.
She reported some of the children claimed their “mum said it was fine”.
“If you don’t have parents who are actively parenting their children you’re going to have these issues,” Mrs McLean said.
She added the internet is really an adult world and children need to be introduced to it gradually with rules and restrictions, the same way they are to the real world.
“We have to understand that these sorts of things are going to happen, we need to do more to make sure people don’t misbehave online, and we need platforms to do more.”
“They’ve made massive improvements in seeing stuff before it happens but the point of live [streaming] is you’re doing it live, so you don’t get forewarning of what it is.”
Mrs McLean said the biggest problem were the “really abhorrent people” who record and share such horrific content.
“They’re 99 per cent of the problem … if everyone was respectful and didn’t misuse technology we wouldn’t be having this conversation”.
Stephen Beckett from Child advocacy group Act for Kids encouraged parents to talk to their kids to find out if they’ve seen the footage, and limit their social media use until the platforms have enough time to get on top of the problem.
“It’s vital parents take the necessary steps to protect their kids online,” Mr Beckett said.
“Secure household devices by setting passcodes and restrictions on all devices, supervise children online and monitor the material they are accessing, and sit down and have an open conversation with your child about the material they may see online.”
Unfortunately the warning has come too late for many.
“Too late, my 13-year-old saw it last night and is still traumatised!” One woman wrote on news.com.au’s Facebook page.
“My 14-year-old already watched this,” said another mother. “If you are in a bad place you don’t have to wreck others. How traumatising.”
Other commenters reiterated Mrs McLean’s advice for parents to keenly monitor their children’s social media use and engage with them on the dangers of the internet.
The video shows a bearded man wearing glasses sitting at a desk before the disturbing footage.
While it has appeared on other social media platforms, TikTok’s For You algorithm that recommends videos to users means more people are seeing it on TikTok than on somewhere like Instagram, where content in your feed is primarily from people you follow (or was until a recent change that surfaces video from other users when you scroll to the end of your feed).
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Warnings have been flowing for children and adults alike, with many taking to Twitter to warn others about the videos.
Some have recommended just staying off social media for a bit as the disturbing video is frequently hiding inside ostensibly harmless content.