How China is taking extreme measures to keep teens away from TikTok

How China is taking extreme measures to keep teens away from TikTok

How China is taking extreme measures to keep teens away from TikTok

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When the video game crackdown took place in 2021, the social media industry was definitely spooked, as many Chinese were already comparing short-form video apps like Douyin to video games in terms of addiction. It seemed that the Sword of Damocles could fall at any moment.


This possibility seems even more certain now. On February 27, the National Radio and Television Administration, China’s top authority on media production and consumption, said it had convened a meeting to work to “enforce the regulations of short videos and prevent underage users from becoming addicted”. News of the meeting sent a clear signal to Chinese social media platforms that the government is unhappy with the current measures and needs them to come up with new ones.

What could these new measures look like? That could mean even tougher rules around screen time and content. But the announcement also mentioned other interesting directions, such as requiring creators to obtain a license to provide content to teens and developing ways for the government to regulate the algorithms themselves. As the situation evolves, we should expect to see more innovative measures taken in China to impose limits on Douyin and similar platforms.

As for the United States, even reaching the level of China’s existing social media regulations would require big changes.

To ensure that no teenager in China uses their parent’s account to watch or post on Douyin, each account is linked to the user’s true identity, and the company says facial recognition technology is used. to monitor live content creation. Of course, these measures help prevent teenagers from finding workarounds, but they also have privacy implications for all users.and I don’t think everyone will decide to sacrifice those rights just to make sure they can control what kids can see.

We can see how the trade-off between control and privacy has already played out in China. Prior to 2019, the gaming industry had a theoretical daily play time limit for underage players, but it could not be enforced in real time. There is now a central database created for gamers, linked to facial recognition systems developed by major game publishers like Tencent and NetEase, which can verify everyone’s identity in seconds.

On the content side, Douyin’s teen mode prohibits the viewing of a large number of types of content, including videos of pranks, “superstitions” or “entertainment places” – places like dance clubs or karaoke where teenagers are not supposed to enter. Although the content is likely curated by ByteDance employees, social media companies in China are routinely punished by the government for not doing thorough censorship, which means decisions about what is suitable for teenagers to watch are ultimately taken by the state. Even the normal version of Douyin regularly removes pro-LGBTQ content on the grounds that it presents “unhealthy and non-traditional views on marriage and love”.

There is a dangerously thin line between content moderation and cultural censorship. As people push for more protections for their children, we will have to answer some tough questions about what these social media limits should look like and what we are willing to trade for them.


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