Musical.ly Is Not Just A Venue

Once again we have a marketplace technology company in the media for all the wrong reasons – this time it’s musical.ly, a video social network aimed at kids. According to an article on news.com.au, and repeated in other articles throughout the world, predators are using the app to connect with children under 18 (in this case, the girl is only 8) to solicit nude images.

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It should go without saying, a technology company that relies on user generated content and allows social interactions between members is a high risk business model, and one where a Trust and Safety culture should be paramount. The potential for horrendous and even criminal customer experiences is huge: harassment, bullying, abuse, spam, extortion, fraud. Beyond just bad buyer experiences or financial loss, this business model has the potential to damage multiple people’s lives, but if done right it could also empower kids and parents to be creative, increase social skills and bring joy from using an app. They might even make money from it. But, parents need to trust the company and have confidence their kids are safe. I spoke with a parent (PJ) who said ‘I don’t let my kids use it because I don’t know enough about it’. That was before the crisis, imagine what that parent is thinking now the story has broken?

Looking for safety information on their website showed they are aware of the risks, but what they don’t say speaks volumes. Safety information is found in the Parents section, under a section called Tips for Parents of Users. That’s our first red flag. To use their product is user beware: parents should monitor their kids usage, report bad activity and talk to them about safe internet etiquette., and the tips are meant to guide someone to avoid and report criminal usage. What is musical.ly doing themselves to prevent abuse? They will suspend accounts if reported to them, but there’s no information about what technology they use to verify new accounts, filter messages and videos, nor how they prevent banned users from returning. By placing the onus on the user to navigate the marketplace, they are trying to dissolve themselves of responsibility. But as we are seeing, that doesn’t protect their reputation. When we are talking kids, a Trusted Brand and inherently Safe experience is everything.

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We’ve seen this play out before: Twitter has had well publicised abuse and bullying issues that were affecting growth, and they only recently starting talking publicly about the proactive measures they are taking to manage their platform. In the early days of eBay, when products didn’t arrive they used to tell buyers eBay was just a venue and to talk to the seller or their payment method to try and get their money back, hardly building confidence that they were invested in successful customer experiences. And now with musical.ly, if a criminal solicitation is made for naked pictures of children, then the parent or 8 year old should report it. Not good enough. Musical.ly is not just a venue.

They need to be working on verifying new accounts at sign up, and building technology to prevent previously suspended users from returning. I’m pretty sure ‘The Real Justin Bieber’ will be back tomorrow as ‘Honestly, I’m Totally The Real Justin Bieber, Totes’. They need to monitor posts and interactions in real time, using people, rules, models and AI to moderate the content, and they need a much stronger response to criminals using their platforms. Build relationships with local police and the office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, use the parent’s involvement as an advantage, and invest heavily in people and technology to reduce and eliminate this sort of behaviour. Trust in musical.ly is broken, they have a lot to do to rebuild it with Safety as the true heart of the business.

Learn more about Trust and Safety in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania at https://trustandsafetyanz.wordpress.com/.

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