Police warn parents of subliminal child grooming messages being spread on TikTok

Police officers in Milton Keynes have warned parents to be vigilant when it comes to TikTok, as child grooming messages are being spread across the social media site.

Seemingly innocuous dance routines can be easily manipulated to contain subliminal messages to influence children, Thames Valley Police warn.

The police are collaborating with AMBER Alert Europe, a child protection agency to raise awareness of this troubling cyber crime.

The force sent its message by bringing together a handful of social media stars to produce a viral dance routine, highlighting how cryptic messages can be hidden beneath the surface of ostensibly harmless dance content.

The video was initially posted as a typical TikTok dance routine, which was only later revealed to be staged to educate teenagers on the signs of online grooming.

This video campaign is part of the #CheckBeforeYouChat project, created by missing children’s foundation AMBER Alert Europe. It has brought together Non government organisations, law enforcement officers and influencers worldwide to fight the alarming increase in online grooming cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Thames Valley Police spokesperson said: "The COVID-19 pandemic has caused social isolation, leading to an alarming increase in online grooming cases. Online grooming is when an adult befriends children online and builds their trust, often leading to sexual abuse, both online and in-person.

"Earlier this month, the song “Love Birds”, secretly containing the five stages of online grooming in its lyrics, was officially released on TikTok (an app very popular among young people) along with a choreographed dance which interpreted the song into a 5-step dance challenge. With the help of well-known dancers on the TikTok circuit, the 5-step dance challenge was replicated by thousands of unsuspecting TikTokers worldwide.

"Right before International Missing Children’s Day, which serves as a symbolic kick-off date, the second part of the campaign was set in motion. This time, dancers and campaign partners posted videos of themselves standing still and revealing the true meaning behind the TikTok challenge."

Frank Hoen, Chairman at AMBER Alert Europe, further outlined the dangers of this type of manipulation, saying: "Even though the signs were right in front of them, they still didn’t notice what was going on.

“This is exactly what happens with online grooming. Often the signs remain unnoticed until it’s too late. We want to make sure children are aware of the fact that online not everything is what it seems and they should be wary of who they communicate with on social media, apps or games. Always #CheckBeforeYouChat.”

Detective Superintendent Rebecca Mears, Head of Protecting Vulnerable People at Thames Valley Police discussed how due to a lack of regulations online grooming can happen so easily. She added: “Online offending has no boundaries. It is too easy for grooming to happen in plain sight and even easier online. We all have a responsibility to be constantly aware, to put in place protective measures, both as adults caring for children and teenagers, but also to increase their own awareness so they can protect themselves as much as possible.”

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