TikTok has a ketamine problem
TikTok was launched three years ago and has quickly built up a large and young user base with videos featuring dancing challenges and lip-syncing.
Although its community guidelines ban depictions of drug use, Sky News has found videos with millions of views in obvious breach of this rule.
While the platform has banned drug hashtags such as #cocaine and #heroin, others promoting ketamine, MDMA and slang terms associated with their use are not blocked by the company’s filters.
Searches for the hashtags #ket (13.8 million) #mdma (5.1 million) and #pinging (4.3 million) have collected millions of views between them, although these words could have different meanings.
The videos these hashtags feature have also collected millions of views depicting drug use and users suffering from come downs.
One video with almost a million views features a user showing off a spoon with a “Special K” cereal design – a popular nickname for ketamine – drawing a heap of what appears to be the drug towards his face.
Other videos claim and appear to show users experiencing the powerful dissociative effect of the drug, popularly known as being in a “K hole”, while a number make comical references to the experiences of the drug using computer effects.
Some concerns about the ages of the audiences for these videos have been posted in the comments beneath them.
“I do find this hilarious but the fact that my sister and her mates are eight/nine years old and love TikTok, I hope they don’t come across this stuff,” one user wrote.
A spokesperson for TikTok told Sky News that the hashtags may have various meanings in other languages.
They noted that the search functionality was not able to limit searches to English to analyse how many of those videos were presumably a reference to drug use.
In a statement, TikTok added: “Our community guidelines clearly state that we do not permit content depicting the use or trade of drugs or other controlled substances.
“We deploy a combination of policies, technologies and moderation strategies to detect and review any problematic content, while also bearing in mind context and the fact that a given word can have more than one meaning in either the same language or across languages.
“We take swift action wherever required and are continuously improving and enhancing our protective measures and using learnings like these to further strengthen our efforts.”
Although the platform’s terms of service ban users under the age of 13 and require users under 18 to have parental consent to use the app, TikTok does not verify registrations.
The government plans to create a new online regulator with the power to fine web companies and social media platforms that fail to protect their users, and possibly block them from being accessed in the UK.
Announcing the plans when he was home secretary, Sajid Javid said technology companies “had their chance to put their own house in order” but failed to do so.
“For too long they have failed to go far enough and fast enough to help keep our children safe. They have failed to do the right thing – for their users, for our families, and for the whole of society,” he added.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Drug dealers are using social media to supply drugs and evade law enforcement, and we expect companies to go further and faster in reducing the risks their platforms pose.
“This includes robust processes in place to swiftly remove illegal content.
“Our Online Harms White Paper sets out plans for world-leading legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online and hold companies to account for tackling a wide range of online harms.”