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'Adults can transform themselves into a peer of your child': 'Teen' filter concerns safety experts

TikTok's new 'teenage look' filter seemingly erases decades in real time. Experts at Bark Technologies believe it has potential to entice underage children.

MINNEAPOLIS — At first, TikTok's new "teenage look" filter may seem fun and entertaining. When applied to a video or a real-time recording, the app displays the user's "younger self" on the top of the screen, instantly erasing decades. On the bottom, the person's actual, unfiltered image is displayed. 

But child safety experts aren't dismissing this filter as just another gimmick or time-suck. They worry it could be used by adults to entice children much younger than them.

Titania Jordan, who serves as chief marketing officer at Bark Parental Control App, says this new TikTok filter is just one among many examples of ever-evolving AI technology that can potentially be used for nefarious purposes... especially if they crop out the bottom half that shows the original image.

"The problem is that predators and other adults can use that sort of tech that exists – not just on TikTok – transform themselves into a peer of your child," Jordan said. "Build a friendship with them... and then entice them to then send images and videos, and do and say things that they otherwise wouldn’t."

Last month, the FBI issued a warning about an "exponential increase" in cases of financial sextortion, particularly among male minors. They said it happens mainly through digital platforms such as social media, gaming websites, or video chat apps.

"On these platforms, predators often pose as girls of a similar age and use fake accounts to target young boys, deceiving them into sending explicit photos or videos," the release stated. "The predator then threatens to release the compromising materials unless the victim sends payment, however, in many cases, the predator will release the images anyway."

Jordan says over the years, Bark has notified law enforcement of "well over 1,000" cases of sexual predatory behavior flagged by their app. She says if these instances aren't caught, the child can end up sending something that they regret.

"Good kids make bad choices, it can absolutely happen to your child," Jordan said. "It can happen to my child, and I do what I do for a living."

She urges parents to have open and honest conversations with their children often about how ever-evolving technology can be used in risky ways. She also recommends parents download and play around with the apps their kids do, even for a little bit, just so it's not unfamiliar territory.

"We can’t stick our heads in the sand and just think everything is like it was in the 80s and 90s. It’s a different world," she said. "Search for the teen filter. Show them – 'look how mom transforms to somebody your age. Isn’t that creepy? We can do this right here for fun, but some people can use this for not-so-great purposes.'"

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently launched a free service called "Take it Down." It helps families remove sexually explicit content – like photos and videos – taken before someone turned 18.

Jordan says if your child does make a mistake, it's important to not freak out.

"The best way to respond, while it might be hard, is to empathize. Hey, this is not ideal. This is not good. But we’re going to get through it."

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