Users are persuading young viewers to gift large sums of money in exchange for likes, follows, and even personal phone numbers
With viral fame comes great responsibility – unfortunately it turns out a lot of viral influencers are kind of… bad people? A new BBC investigation has found that famous TikTok stars are scamming their teenage fans out of hundreds of pounds.
The app enables those with 1,000 followers or more to livestream to their followers, encouraging fans to send comments and interact with their daily lives. But these livestreams also have a dark side – disguised through quirky words and phrases like “Panda”, “Rainbow Puke”, and “I’m Very Rich”, influencers are asking fans to send them money via the app.
Small gifts start between 5p and £1, with bigger gifts reaching £5 or £10, and the jackpot being a “Drama Queen” which is worth £48.99. Given the majority of users on TikTok are between 10 and 20-years-old, influencers’ gift manipulation is typically targeted at children and teenagers.
Known as ‘gift-baiting’, users are offering likes, follows, and even personal phone numbers in exchange for virtual ‘gifts’, though the BBC reports that once money has been sent, the TikTok influencer tends to skimp on their reward, ignoring calls or not replying to texts.
The BBC spoke to influencer Rhia from South Wales who earns around £1,000 per live, and admitted her primary audience is aged between 10 and 14. When asked about the ethics of her actions, and whether she’d like TikTok to impose stricter regulations to protect young users, she said: “I think that would probably be beneficial… Taking money from children is not a good way to earn a living.” Although she didn’t suggest she would actually stop taking money from children.
There’s also another terrifying trend of gifters being approached by users on the app, who aggressively DM asking for gifts in exchange for likes. The money is reportedly split between TikTok and the creators, with 50 per cent of the profits going to each.
A spokesperson for TikTok told the BBC: “We do not tolerate behaviours that are deceptive in nature and we are sorry to hear some of the users’ experiences. We value your feedback and will further strengthen our policies and product features.”
Back in February, the social media platform was hit with a $5.7 million (£4.3 million) fine after being accused of collecting data from under-13s, and is currently under investigation by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, which is looking into how TikTok collects and uses childrens’ data, particularly reviewing the opening messaging system that puts children at risk of being privately messaged by adults.
Of course TikTok is responsible for protecting their young users, but some of the blame has to be put on influencers using the app to scam children and teens out of money they don’t actually have. It’s a dark time on social media when adults are earning a living through the manipulation of kids.