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The Death Dance Of Musical.ly

Anastasia Basil writes about kids and the social media platform Musical.ly. [1] Excerpts:

My daughter is ten. She wants me to get Musical.ly on my phone so she can make funny lip-sync videos. Everyone has it, she whines, even the kid whose mom is an FBI agent/social worker/pediatrician/nun.

Wow. Well. In that case…

I download the app while she’s at school but it won’t let me explore without an account. I create a profile under Chardonaynay47 only to delete that and opt for something less momish, gummibear9.

One word sums up my experience: Nowayismykidgettingthisapp.

Musical.ly looks innocent — just kids making music videos, and it is that, but more so it’s this: user uploaded content by millions of people who can also live stream, which is how I first encountered porn on Musical.ly. A very helpful naked man live-streamed his live stream (if you know what I mean.)


Porn is not the worst thing on Musical.ly. The worst thing is watching little kids (as young as eight) sexually objectify themselves. The kids who get it right (the tweeny Kardashians) gain followers. The kids who get it wrong — those not “sexy” enough, funny enough, pop-culturey enough — are openly ridiculed in the comment section. Worse, their “cringe-worthy” lip sync may be immortalized in “Musical.ly Cringe Compilation” videos on YouTube. Some of these cringe compilations have upwards of five million views. My heart hurts not only for the exploited children, but for all kids who scroll Musical.ly (or YouTube) and see this kind of ugly play out.


It gets worse. There’s code language that gets past Musical.ly’s filters. Some kids hashtag their videos with words like thot, which stands for That Ho Over There, or fgirl, hottie, sxy, whooty or sin. But good luck keeping up, the code changes week-to-week. And there are lyrics — stop reading now if you’re easily put off — there are kids mouthing words about rough sex. I saw a boy around the age of 9, maybe 10, create a user name that was so sexually graphic I had a hard time processing what I was seeing. A little boy. Not a teenager. A boy.

And much worse. There are #killingstalking musical.lys, which are dark-themed (artistic?) videos showing boys putting knives to girls’ throats. There are #selfharm videos that show suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she doesn’t want to live any more. I saw a boy with a bleeding chest (yes, real blood.) I saw a young girl whose thighs were so cut up I had to take a break from writing this article. A long break. The images are deeply upsetting. There are #cutter and #triggerwarning and #anorexic videos. Musers with eating disorders hashtag videos using proana (code for pro anorexia.) I found over eleven thousand #selfhate videos. It goes on and on. Each hashtag is its own magical wardrobe, a portal into a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas. It’s Narnia minus Aslan.


Look at the Musical.ly screenshot above, and read the comment beneath it. Somewhere out there is this girl’s mom, she probably thinks her daughter is watching funny lip-syncs, not leaning into an abyss. In this case, anorexia beckons. Suicide beckoned Dylan. For others, it’s a living hell of self-hate. Zero notifications. Zero new followers. The absence of love — the kind so readily given to other kids via thousands of followers, likes and hearts— is hard evidence: The world thinks I’m a loser. These are the kids who hashtag their own face with the word ugly. The world, of course, is oblivious. But to kids with an online identity, the rejection feels global.

Read the whole thing. [1] See the screenshot Basil is talking about. It’s a photo of an anorexic girl (not her face). Share this story with everybody you know.

This is the world we live in. This is the culture of death. This is a civilization that has a death wish.

We are not condemned to live like this. Come on, parents — parent! Refuse to let this evil into your homes, and into the lives of your children. It’s hard — but what is the alternative?

29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "The Death Dance Of Musical.ly"

#1 Comment By CatherineNY On March 7, 2018 @ 12:55 pm

I was so horrified by this that I immediately asked my young teen homeschooled daughter if she knew of this app. Oh yes, she said — two of her friends (both younger than she, one much younger) have it on their phones. I told her I do not want her looking at it, and she said, “Oh, no one uses Musical.ly anymore.” My preteen son chimed in, “Musical.ly is dead.” This makes things even worse. New apps crop up. Parents cannot control other people’s children, and phones are EVERYWHERE. One despairs of the future.

#2 Comment By Joyful Housewife On March 7, 2018 @ 1:08 pm

So, I really think the Benedict Option needs more of Amish flavor than you’ve previously suggested.

#3 Comment By Hound of Ulster On March 7, 2018 @ 1:34 pm

This is your brain on late capitalism. Any questions?

#4 Comment By Tom On March 7, 2018 @ 1:39 pm

So glad my kids (10-149 don´t have smart phones. It is devilish and industry, liberals and SJW tell us not to worry.

#5 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On March 7, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

This is the world we live in. This is the culture of death. This is a civilization that has a death wish.

This is the world we live in. It’s not the culture of death, this is just humanity as it’s always been – nasty and brutish.

We aren’t evolved to understand how communities will work when everybody can be exposed to everybody with nearly zero effort. Perhaps if we survive long enough traditions and mores will develop that allow people to interact sensibly on the internet. A good start would be if people realized what terrible idea it is to give their teen/tween/kid/toddler/baby/fetus a g** d**n smart phone.

#6 Comment By pbnelson On March 7, 2018 @ 1:53 pm

“Your kids will be irresistibly peer-pressured to use anti-social media, and nag you to death for it.” –Answer #91 to the question “why homeschool?”

#7 Comment By Jeff R On March 7, 2018 @ 2:14 pm

This is the world we live in. This is the culture of death. This is a civilization that has a death wish.

The pace of technological advancement is faster than we can develop healthy norms, habits, and a social consensus on how to use it. Let’s not go all Chicken Little about it, please.

#8 Comment By Larry in NC On March 7, 2018 @ 2:16 pm

I bet Frontier doesn’t block musical.ly.

#9 Comment By Robert E. On March 7, 2018 @ 2:33 pm

So people use social media to pose nude and engage in all sorts of sexual hijinks, and children use it to bully each other and engage in unhealthy practices. And social conservatives are -shocked- and think civilization is going to collapse.

This seems to be along the lines of what Matt in VA was talking about in an earlier posting with “prissiness” from SoCons, though I’d call it being sheltered. Nothing Rod speaks of is particularly new or shocking, only the technology platform has changed.

When it comes down to it though, most children in America have it pretty good. They don’t starve to death, they don’t have to go out to fight wars for religious extremists. The majority of them will have the opportunity to pursue higher education and economic success. The idea that this is a “Culture of Death” is ridiculous, and it gets in the way of a more measured discussion of how exactly to teach children to be media savvy and avoid toxic things on the internet.

[NFR: Actually, according to the photo, some of them *do* starve themselves, and photograph it to encourage others. — RD]

#10 Comment By Leslie Fain On March 7, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

Lord, have mercy. These poor kids. It seems the more tolerance and freedom is foisted on this generation, the worse the kids treat each other and the worse they feel. I was just thinking the other day how you cannot even question someone’s sexual preferences or gender fluidity because that is mean, and they can’t help it, but you can mock someone’s physical appearance or age all day long on social media.

Even among homeschoolers, our family is unusual in that our kids don’t have phones (our oldest is almost 12.) Once our oldest drives, we might spring for a tracfone with only calling and texting capabilities, but I get to read all the texts.

#11 Comment By Pogonip On March 7, 2018 @ 2:56 pm

I have a crossword-puzzle game where if you get stuck you can “buy” a hint for 100 points (“coins”). If you don’t have enough points you can, of course, buy some from the game manufacturer, for real money, or you can watch a commercial for 25 points per commercial. Musically is one of the commercials that may pop up, and let me tell you, it’s highly deceptive—two wholesome white girls, strumming guitars, singing a happy folk song. Not a hint of the real content on the site. I know our government isn’t much interested in enforcing the law against businesses, but Canadian parents may want to file a false-advertising complaint. U.S. parents might consider screen-shots of the ad, juxtaposed with screen-shots of real Musically content, posted to Facebook where lots of people will see it. Download any game where players have to “buy” something with “coins” to complete the game and you’ll get these ads. Try to do something, like get a hint, and a box selling coins will come up. Close that box and the game will then offer you the needed something in exchange for watching commercials.

You may sit through quite a few of them, they seem to be entirely random—often they come up for the same game I’m playing. The Musically ads tend to come up at night.

#12 Comment By Northmoor On March 7, 2018 @ 3:07 pm

Not worried. If we can just ban guns, the kids’ll be all right. Remain focused on the cause, please.

I didn’t buy your article the other day about how the “backlash is building”, as I think instead it’s more like the “centrifuge is spinning”. But I’m at least mildly hopeful that there might be something of a backlash building against the social media mill wheel, which is one of the power sources for that centrifuge.

#13 Comment By Bob Morris On March 7, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

Still reading Anastasia Bell’s piece, but here’s a part that stood out to me.

The question I’m asked most: “Do parents know their child is posting/watching such videos?” Of course not. Remember Dylan Klebold? He was one of the Columbine shooters, the depressed one (not the psychopath, that was Eric Harris, his toxic friend.) Dylan was kind, funny and well-liked by his teachers. He came from a good family — close to both parents, especially his dad. His parents had no idea their son was suicidal, let alone homicidal. When we hear about kids who self harm or commit acts of violence we imagine horrible parents: Well, that explains it! Dylan’s mom was loving, hands-on and watchful. She was you. She was me. The kind of mom who put little notes in her kid’s lunch. The lesson here is not that social media or violent video games lead to suicide and school shootings, the lesson is that we parents don’t know our kids nearly as well as we think we do. The only thing we do know is the adolescent brain is vulnerable and susceptible. What your kid’s brain sees and what it clocks time doing, matters.

Dylan’s mom wrote a book. It’s heartbreaking and eye-opening. I finished it weeks ago but one passage haunts me: “There is nothing I wouldn’t give to have read the pages of Dylan’s journal while he was still alive, while we still had the chance to pull him back from the abyss that swallowed him and so many innocent others.”

She raises an excellent point. We forget that children’s brains are still developing well into their teens and they are still learning how to comprehend everything around them. And yet we just brush off all bad kids as bad parenting, while assuming our own are good kids, when we often have no idea what is really going on.

It’s more than just refusing to let kids get on every app that’s out there. It’s checking up on your kids as much as you can and making sure you communicate with them well — as in, face-to-face talks, not texting and social media. And if you can tell something is bothering your child, always make sure your child knows he or she can talk to you about anything.

Most of all, don’t let the smartphone, tablet, etc., replace parenting and childhood development. Technology can be useful, but it’s no substitute for in-person conversation, especially for the parent-child relationship.

#14 Comment By Margaret On March 7, 2018 @ 4:05 pm

This is a great article! Every adult with any interest in children whether parent, teacher, grandparent, friend — every adult — needs to read this article.

#15 Comment By Will Harrington On March 7, 2018 @ 5:03 pm

“The pace of technological advancement is faster than we can develop healthy norms, habits, and a social consensus on how to use it. Let’s not go all Chicken Little about it, please.”

The first sentence and the second sentence do not seem to be related.

#16 Comment By Caroline On March 7, 2018 @ 7:26 pm

With all due respect, I think you may be the sheltered one. The kids are patently not alright. Opioid, alcohol, porn addiction; suicide rates and weird mass shootings in public schools should be a tip off.
I’m 60. My childhood was as typical as all get out —
And it was a time of fairy tale innocence by comparison with what’s going on now.
The porn poison is absolutely a new development, made possible because of technology.
No, Robert e, in the good ole days— and there were, in fact, good ole days — mom was at home, dad came home at a reasonable hour, we had one telephone for six people to share, and got to watch Daniel Boone on Thursday nights.
We didn’t know anyone with a drug problem. Divorce was a scandal that was talked about with opprobrium. I never knew anyone who shacked up with a boyfriend. Everybody knew who the loose girls were, and there weren’t many.
Today, I don’t know a single family who isn’t in some way touched by drug or alcohol addiction, single motherhood, suicide, and what I would call shocking promiscuity.
We really don’t have to live this way.
This, robertE, is a sewer.

#17 Comment By Edna On March 7, 2018 @ 7:39 pm

Oh well my grand daughter does not get on the lip sync musical.lys she loves to watch people dance.and do dance challenges i just checked her phone she does not interact with this but I will make sure her mother checks and I check her musical.ly

#18 Comment By Dale McNamee On March 7, 2018 @ 9:01 pm

The last two paragraphs says it all !

Pope JP II coined the term “the culture of death” although Os Guinness predated him by writing a book titled “The Dust of Death” about the ’60’s…

And parents are responsible for what and how they teach their kids… So, they should seriously embrace those roles and their God given authority over their kids…

In addition to the Tracfone mentioned,I would mention Jitterbug and Great Call since the phones are designed for senior citizens who don’t need anything beyond texting and calling…

#19 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 7, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

There are a lot more levels in the hells of technology than there were in Dante’s. I’m not sure that the pagans designing them should end up only in his first circle.

#20 Comment By I Don’t Matter On March 7, 2018 @ 11:09 pm

Rod, while fully agreeing with your disgust at this app and all it represents, one has to pause at your “culture of death” trope. The worrisome trend seems to be the same one that causes some people to see “white supremacy” in any critique of, e.g., BLM. It’s over the top and unhelpful. Next time you want to write about Blue Whale groups, for example – you know, the ones actually pushing kids into self harm and suicide – and in righteous outrage use the culture of death thing, it will lose its power.
For what it’s worth, the guy buying a deadly weapon to stick it to the liberals is engaging in real culture of death, no?

[NFR: “Culture of Death” has a specific meaning to religious conservatives (well, Christian ones). It was coined by Pope St. John Paul II. — RD]

#21 Comment By Annie On March 8, 2018 @ 10:25 am

Fran Macadam and Caroline say it best.

At the end of the day, technology can be a way of working with or against reality. It’s not neutral. Long ago our masters took the road in a yellow wood that led to mastery of technology, and it is now the primary tool of “overlaying” our given reality with an alternate one. I suppose you could say it is the building of Dante’s Inferno in this world, only looking at some of the results I have to wish Dante back to add a few cantos.

#22 Comment By Freki On March 8, 2018 @ 12:56 pm

I’m 55 so only 5 years younger than you. I grew up in a tiny rural town far from any city. It was the sort of place you’re so nostalgic about.

My dad was an alcoholic and worked shift work, so I only saw him about two weeks out of the month, otherwise he was at work or the bar when I was home from school. I didn’t do drugs, being the nerdy sort, but I still knew who all the kids selling drugs in school were. We had the DEA in town for a while tracking down someone who was manufacturing PCP. Two of my classmates in a class size of 62 got pregnant during high school. My parents got divorced because of Dad’s drinking.

It looks like teen suicide rates actually peaked in 1990, and are now just slightly higher than they were in 1975, according to the CDC: [2]

Just beware of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses. You probably weren’t reading the news as a child, and didn’t know much that was going on beyond your immediate experience.

#23 Comment By Philly guy On March 8, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

“Culture of Death”.What culture uses an execution device for a symbol?

#24 Comment By ecapitol On March 8, 2018 @ 2:17 pm

A big problem with adults trying to police children’s use of technology is that they usually don’t understand the tech well enough to be able to grasp how the young ones are using it. When you checked your granddaughter’s phone, were you able to see the full history of what she’d watched as well as sent? Are you *sure* she wasn’t able to clear her history?
And are you really ok with letting your granddaughter access a platform where she may unwittingly encounter pornography (and for sure is seeing how other children sexualize themselves) for the so she can watching people dance?

#25 Comment By George Crosley On March 8, 2018 @ 2:36 pm

This is your brain on late capitalism. Any questions?

You are so right, Hound of Ulster. The unspeakable, soul-killing ugliness of Musical.ly would never, ever exist within the glorious world of scientific socialism.

[NFR: I visited the Terror House in Budapest yesterday. It’s a museum to the victims of Hungarian fascism and communism, established in what used to be the secret police headquarters. I went down into basement torture cells yesterday, and inadvertently started gagging. I have never, ever been in a place where the sense of evil was so visceral. My Hungarian friend told me the only place she has ever been to that felt that way (other than this place) was Auschwitz. — RD]

#26 Comment By KingP On March 8, 2018 @ 2:45 pm

Some of you may recall that the adolescent brain does not always respond well to cold-turkey ultimatums (sudden spasms of “Parenting!”) , eschatological paranoia or what would now be termed “mommyblog” hysteria.

Your only real chance to counter this kind of nonsense is too keep your kid busy with analog activities that make goofing off with your phone a poor substitute for actual human contact. A subversive way to do this is to actually encourage content creation (original short films,animations,etc.) that can occasionally convert a dead-eyed consumer into a media-savvy, young content producer with a well-developed BS-detector.

#27 Comment By Deana On March 8, 2018 @ 5:17 pm

Thank you, my 7 year old granddaughter and her 11 year old sister make these videos and have a blast. I hope we can find a child version so they can keep having fun.

#28 Comment By Rob G On March 9, 2018 @ 7:38 am

“’Culture of Death’.What culture uses an execution device for a symbol?”

Psssst: Your pimply-16 y.o. atheist-in-the-basement slip is showing.

#29 Comment By あh;えd On March 18, 2018 @ 7:28 am

i love musical.ly