Analysts hail strict time limits for children on Chinese TikTok as ‘proactive measure’

·4-min read

A move by TikTok owner ByteDance to limit the amount of time children spend on its Chinese app Douyin has been hailed as a “proactive measure” that could set a precedent for other social media companies.

ByteDance announced on Saturday that children in China will be able to access Douyin for only about 40 minutes a day. The company has introduced a “youth mode” in the short-form video app for children below the age of 14.

Experts believe that this move may prompt other internet platforms and media companies with short-form video content to adopt similar restrictions.

“Self-assessment and voluntary implementation of minor-protection measures by more platforms could help suggest platforms are being more socially responsible and potentially reassure parents and regulators,” analysts at Citigroup Global Markets said in a note on Monday. They added that this was a way for ByteDance to get ahead of potential regulation.

The app won’t be accessible to children between 10pm and 6am, ByteDance said in the statement. The new policy will also filter out any “inappropriate content” on the app.

The company urged parents to help their children register on the app only using their real names or else activate the “youth mode” manually. But ByteDance did not elaborate on its plans to implement the policy for those who don’t use their real names.

Meanwhile, ByteDance added that Douyin would also introduce new content, including science experiments, art exhibitions, nature, and history, to “inspire” youth. The statement said: “We are more strict with teenagers. We will work harder to provide quality content so that young people can learn and see the world.”

In 2018, Douyin had launched various protection measures for minors, such as time locks, parent-child platforms, customer service lines, and parent manuals.

Douyin’s main domestic rival, Kuaishou, offered similar features, including an optional “youth mode”, in 2019. Users could also opt for preselected age-appropriate content and limiting daily app usage to a maximum of 40 minutes between 6am and 10pm.

ByteDance’s latest move came less than a month after China’s video game regulator announced that online gamers under the age of 18 shall only be allowed to play for an hour — between 8pm and 9pm — on Fridays, weekends and holidays. The Chinese state media had also called online games “spiritual opium”.

Experts have suggested that these measures are being taken to keep in line with China’s Minor Protection Bill, which was revised in June. The bill mandates internet providers, including social media apps, to set up functions for “time management, content restriction and consumption limits” for minors.

The China Daily reported that the revised legislation said that “with more youngsters becoming addicted to online games and short videos, the law on the protection of minors requires people from all walks of life, including parents, schools and social institutions, to take preventive measures to stop internet addiction causing physical or mental harm to young people”.

The Global Times reported last week that the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) issued guidelines “urging internet platforms to strengthen the management of push news and protection for minors”. It said that the announcement represented the regulator’s ongoing effort to create a “healthy internet environment.”

In August this year, the CAC also ordered a crackdown on “unhealthy fan culture” to reduce “frenzied idol worship among underage fans”. Local reports said that recent cases involving “fans blindly supporting scandal-hit celebrities” had increased concern over toxic fan culture in the country.

Over 930 million people of China’s 1.44 billion population used social media in 2021, according to the We Are Social digital agency. The agency found that Douyin was the fourth-most used social media platform in China in 2020 with roughly 40 per cent of users aged between 16 and 64.

According to the latest data, Douyin had at least 490 million users in November last year.

State broadcaster CGTN said that 95 per cent of China’s youth population is online nowadays — 183 million minors.

And the We Are Social digital agency also found that Chinese people spent an average of five hours and 22 minutes online every day — one and a half hours less than the global average of six hours and 54 minutes.

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