For three years I have been collecting data and screengrabs of some of the most vile content that works its way into the lives of children, teenagers, and young adults in the world. Unlike the police who hunt down child predators passing pornography and other vile content to the youth of the world, I have been collecting data on a company that most parents let into their kids lives. This company is none other than TikTok.
The popular video sharing and live-streaming platform rocketed to success when the worldwide shutdowns began. In the last quarter of 2019, TikTok reportedly had about 500 million users and recorded downloads of 857 million according to the website BusinessofApps. By the end of 2020, that number had skyrocketed to nearly 800 million users and 1575 million downloads. Today, they have about 1466 million users and 3301 million downloads.
While there was some concern around the 2020 presidential election cycle about how TikTok used the data collected on users and how the Chinese government might use that data, very little has been said since. I joined TikTok in August of 2020 at the urging of my daughter and this began a long saga of doxing, abuse, violent threats, and a myriad of trips to my local FBI Field Office. The Aiken County Sheriffs Office and the South Carolina Attorney General refused to lift a finger to help as I am LGBTQIA and so they believed, “No humans were affected by this abuse.”
It started one night in late August of 2020 when a user named ncsteelerfan typed the message in a live stream to me that read “Trust me I will find you its not hard with the Internet. And I will put a hole in your head”. This was followed by the message, “You are about to have a man hunting you down”. This raised concerns as it did not take long to identify the individual who owned the account and verify that he had access to government level financial and personal level information about people at his fingertips. Sadly, the banking institution he where he worked as an Information Security Engineer, First Citizens Bank, claimed that they saw nothing wrong with his messages and would ultimately do nothing to limit his access to sensitive data he could use to carry out his attack if he wanted to. (Because of an ongoing Federal Criminal case against this individual, we are not releasing his name.)
This would start an avalanche of abusive and violent messages from people all over the world. The FBI has been tracking many of these threats for the last two and a half years in the hopes of arresting more of these people, however, tracking them on the internet is difficult when companies like TikTok refuse to release the user data even with a Federal court order. Sadly, it did not stop with TikTok. Apps like TextNow which can be used to send text messages to cell phones and even make phone calls to them can be used by these same individuals to harass and threaten children and adults alike.
This is what happened to me. I started receiving phone calls and text messages from these “untraceable” apps at all hours of the day and night. Many of them included pornography and threats against myself, my wife, my daughter, my friends, and even my church. It got so bad that they even started emailing my work at Augusta University Medical Center and tried to hack into the medical and HR files at the hospital. As a result, I was removed from my work as a volunteer (but stipend) chaplain at the hospital. (AUMC has offered me a spot back but not without strings. Considering I did nothing wrong, I have refused to return under those conditions.) This ended my hopes of completing the Clinical Pastoral Education program at AUMC and blacklisted me at other local hospitals because of their influence.
In one short month, my world had come crashing down and TikTok was at the center of it. Yet, as I dug deeper into the quagmire that is TikTok I found other victims that lost nearly everything because of this “harmless” app. The Daily Mail, a UK based news service, conducted their own investigation in 2022 into TikTok and found that when posing as a teenager, within 24 hours of signing up on the app, they were shown over 1,000 videos about depression and self-harm.
According to a New York Times article, two children aged 8 and 9 years old died in 2021 after participating in a viral TikTok challenge called the Blackout Challenge. Little was done to stop the spread of these videos challenging kids to choke themselves until they passed out. The company is currently being sued by the parents of the children. According to the Times of India, 7 children’s parents are suing TikTok after their children died as a result of the Blackout Challenge. Deaths from suicide and dangerous stunts are streamed almost every day on TikTok with little to no attempt by the company to stop them.
The violent threats against my family, friends, and church number in the hundreds. From threats to send Mexican Cartel hit men to blowing up and burning down our church, the threats and abuse continue after nearly two and a half years. TikTok refuses to acknowledge the problem and has instead resorted to banning the accounts of victims rather than the accounts of the criminals. One of my accounts was recently permanently banned from live-streaming because it was reported for Minor Sexual Exploitation because I am a Bishop who supports the LGBTQIA+ community. They demanded no proof of any wrongdoing on my part, only that someone said it was happening. Meanwhile, children and young adults are routinely abused by what they call “harmless trolls” to the point they commit suicide and nothing is done to stop them.
My advice: Look at the proof (http://flab.godseyonline.net/wall-of-shame/proof/) gathered during my investigation of this platform and decide if your child’s life is worth enough to bar them from this dangerous app. If enough parents raise alarms, either the app will fold, or they will finally fix the issues they have.