How China is taking extreme measures to protect young people from Tik Tok


In the year The move against video games in 2021 certainly worried the social media industry, as many Chinese compared short video apps like Duiin to video games in terms of addiction. It seems that the sword of Damocles could fall at any moment.

This possibility now seems more certain. In the year 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 on “enforcing the regulation of short videos and preventing underage users from becoming addicted.” News of the meeting sent a clear signal to Chinese social media platforms that the government is not happy with the current measures and that it needs to take new measures.

What might these new measures look like? It could mean stricter rules on screen time and content. But the announcement also mentions some other interesting directions, such as requiring creators to obtain permission to serve content to minors and developing ways for the government itself to regulate algorithms. As the situation develops, we should expect to see more new measures in China to impose restrictions on Duyin and similar platforms.

As for the US, even reaching the level of China’s existing laws around social media would require major changes.

The company says facial recognition technology is used to create live streaming content, saying each account is linked to a user’s real identity to ensure no teenager in China uses their parent’s account to watch or post on Dui. Of course, those measures prevent minors from finding solutions, but they also have privacy implications for all users.And I don’t think everyone would decide to sacrifice those rights to make sure kids can control what they see.

We can see how the trade-off of regulation and privacy has played out in China in the past. Prior to 2019, the gaming industry had a theoretical daily game time limit for underage players, but could not be enforced in real time. Now there is a central database created for game players, linked to facial recognition systems developed by big game publishers like Tencent and NetEase, which can verify everyone’s identity in seconds.

On the content side of things, Douyin’s Teen Mode blocks many types of content, including comics, “superstitions” or “entertainment venues”—like dance or karaoke clubs that teenagers shouldn’t be in. While the content is selected by ByteDance staff, social media companies in China are regularly fined by the government for not implementing deep censorship, and this means that decisions about what teenagers should watch are ultimately made by the government. Even the mainstream version of Dwayne routinely downgrades LGBTQ content for presenting “unhealthy and mainstream views on marriage and love.”

There is a dangerously thin line between content moderation and cultural censorship. As people become more protective of their children, we have to answer some tough questions about what those social media limits should look like and what we want to trade them for.


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