Sexually explicit, disturbing videos popping up on popular Musical.ly app
WASHINGTON - Cyber safety experts are warning parents about a popular app your kids might be on.
It's called Musical.ly - and on its surface, it appears to allow teens to lip sync to their favorite songs. Users with the best performances gain thousands, even millions of fans in the process.
But what parents don't realize about this app is that it can also be used to exploit children.
Users can search specific code words - like #sxy, #thot, #whooty, #sin, #proana, and #asset - to access hundreds of videos of teenagers stripping or hurting themselves.
"They have this platform where they can have this large audience that will respond to them," explained Reginald Corbitt, founder of SafeCyber. "So they will post or say things either as a cry for help or because they feel empowered."
The behavior is encouraged by other users. During a live feed, people even offer up cash gifts for certain challenges or dares. Some users even get direct messages from strangers asking for nude photos.
FOX 5 reached out to Musical.ly and they told us as soon as they are alerted to a harmful hashtag or video, they take it down. But the struggle is these hashtags are continually evolving as users replace or add letters.
This is where parents come in.
"Parents should view protecting their children in the digital age from the standpoint of a house," explained Corbitt. "Sending your child outside for the very first time, sending your child out to that landscape, you're watching them from the window. You're keeping an eye on them the way you should digitally."
Corbitt said parents should allow their children to explore the digital landscape, but in a limited capacity. Parents should make sure the privacy settings on your child's app only allows them to connect with people they know. They can also block people abusing the app or asking them for inappropriate material.
The app can also be avoided entirely. Musical.ly is rated ages 12 and up in the app store, so if parents have the controls set up on their children's phone, they can block them from downloading it altogether. That feature is available through the phone's security settings directly.
Corbitt also recommends parents download the Bark app. It allows them to monitor their children's internet activity and imposes restrictions such as shutting down access late at night.
He also encourages schools teach digital citizenship in classes so that young men and women can grow into responsible digital citizens.
His new book, "Digital Parenting - Protecting Our Children in the Digital Age," will be available toward the end of the school year right as kids get out for the summer.
For more information on keeping your kids safe, go to SafeCyberEdu.com