Concerns over TikTok ‘Silhouette’ challenge exposing more than users intended

BOSTON — Boston 25 News has learned one of the latest challenges popular with teens and young women on the social media app TikTok could have embarrassing consequences they’d never imagined.

The “Silhouette” challenge was intended to promote a body-positive image, but the video can be manipulated to expose users instead.

The idea is for participants to film themselves fully clothed, and when the music changes, the video cuts to them dancing in silhouette with a filter obscuring their bodies. To create a sharper silhouette, many girls and young women wear less or nothing at all, expecting the filter to protect their privacy.

“There are people out there that just do very sad things,” said Nadia Cole, one of hundreds of thousands who’ve participated in the challenge. “I think it’s a way for people to feel sexy in their body and feel like they can just do whatever.”

But tech experts say the challenge has been hijacked by some using software to remove the filter and reveal the original footage of their bodies.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Alison Mayer, who owns Child Therapy Boston says there could be unintended consequences for unexpecting teens whose videos are manipulated.

“If they make the choice to participate it’s something that they may regret the next day, six months from then, and they can’t take it back, once it’s on social media they can’t take it back,” Mayer said

Mayer tells Boston 25 News, this exposure could humiliate girls, hurt them socially and jeopardize their careers and futures.

Mayer says teens are often impulsive and not the best decision-makers, but they should take a step back and think about the material they’re posting. She says a good question to ask yourself is:

“Whatever you’re putting on the internet, would you want it on the front page of the news?”

ADVICE FOR FAMILIES

As many teens crave social interaction while isolated during the pandemic, Mayer says it’s a reminder for parents to stay involved.

“Teenagers by nature can be rebellious and impulsive, and it’s really just a good idea to have your finger on the pulse of what is going on,” Mayer said.

In Cole’s case, she was never undressed. She says it’s a good wake-up call.

“Make sure that if you don’t want somebody to do such a terrible thing, just make sure that you are prepared and you are covered,” Cole said.

TikTok says the silhouette filter is not one of the site’s own effects, but the company has a policy of removing and banning non-consensual sexual imagery. While some are giving tutorials on how to remove the filter, the site would ban those too.