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Thursday, February 20, 2020

You are shopping at a grocery store or in a 7-Eleven, minding your own business, but then you see a group of teens doing a “strike a pose,” some kind of vogue Madonna move (I’m already dating myself). In your head you may be thinking, “Oy, this child is not well.” Nope. This is a phenomenon called TikTok, formerly called Musical.ly.

Musical.ly used to be where users would lip-sync to a popular song and do some dance moves to the music. My wife and I exclaimed our displeasure once during the bat mitzvah year when we saw a group of girls doing this. The dancing was funny, but the girls were not listening to the lyrics, which were not complementary to any woman.

A Chinese parent company purchased Musical.ly and the concept seemed to change. Instead of lots of lip syncing and dancing, now you have channels like ABC and other major companies sharing a video of firefighters coming off a plane to help Australia, with the entire airport cheering. But interspersed with this sponsored content are videos with cursing and videos that none of us would want our kids to see.

As any tech writer, I can’t write what I haven’t used, so I downloaded TikTok. There are multiple sign-in options, like Gmail or Facebook. Once you sign on, you choose subjects in which you are interested, like animals, comedy and music. Right from the get-go, I saw a video of a “comedian” slapping his dog’s behind and singing with multiple curse words to the tune of

“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.”

I was horrified even though I’m not the world’s most pious person. I love animals and I don’t see the need to add curse words to make a point. This is the downside of TikTok.

I spent about two hours reviewing TikTok videos. Some are inventive and amazing. Some people covered their backyard with tarps, wearing hazmat suits and a huge bucket. They poured toothpaste into some chemical. BAM! A tidal wave of blue clouds covered their backyard. Another cool video had a father videoing his baby son’s sounds for a whole year, and then somehow turned it into the AC/DC song “Thunderstruck.”

TikTok’s tools to enhance your own videos are very easy to use. One can add sounds and change a building into marbles with the app.

So where are the attractions? TikTok is basically another social video media sharing app aimed at a younger generation. There is a Chinese version as well that has over 10 million followers. I am a big fan of Gary Vee, aka Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary Vee is a social media marketing expert, formerly managing his family’s wine store, The Wine Library, in Springfield. I have seen his videos and read his books. He is all about companies getting on the newest social media app and sharing content. A case in point is a pediatric dentist who used her lunch breaks with her staff to make fun videos on proper teeth care. They would lip syncing to popular music. As Gary Vee says over and over, teens would beg their parents to visit this dentist over the funny videos.

I can’t deny how easy it is to make a video and share on social media such as TikTok. Advanced configurations and how-to videos are easy to find. Searching YouTube is often a legitimate place to go to get tech advice.

But there’s not so much useful content with TikTok: this is my personal statement and opinion. I am blessed to have Rabbi Efraim Clair of RYNJ as my mentor of sorts. Rabbi Clair is a wealth of knowledge in IT, as well as acceptable content for our youth. We both concur that though TikTok is entertaining, no parents should be naive enough to think, “What’s the big deal? It’s harmless.” I can’t agree.

Some of these YouTubers and TikTok video people have a lot to offer and are informative as well as entertaining. But talk to your children of all ages, and make a decision on what the parent feels is appropriate. It’s best to filter this stuff if you can.

I have my famous response to any parents who ask my advice about filtering. For children from the ages of 6 to 11, you might be able to filter content. After those ages any Smartphone that has wifi capabilities can access inappropriate-for-their-age content, even without service. A teen with $25 can purchase a very low-end smartphone from 7-Eleven. Or they can bypass the whole filter with VPN, a free app.

Best to spend time talking with your children about what content you feel is appropriate. I am a person that feels you’ll never win by saying, “No videos for you!” Best to learn about all these apps. Download them, and view some of the content. Maybe find video content about go-kart building or how to make a guitar from household items, and then offer to do those projects with your children.


Shneur Garb is the founder of UnGarbled-Tech solutions. Shneur has developed tools and hardware for the EdTech industry.