Another day, another Chinese crackdown targeting permissible online screen time for young Chinese users. This time, ByteDance, the maker of short-video mobile juggernaut TikTok, said that it would restrict access to Douyin, the Chinese version of the app, to 40 minutes a day for users under 14 years old.
According to the WSJ, Douyin’s “youth mode,” which follows the imposition of new limits on younger Chinese users’ access to online videogames, will restrict under-14s to using the app between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The app will be inaccessible to all users in that age group outside of those hours.
While Douyin had introduced some of the features beginning in 2018 on an optional basis, the latest rollout will apply to all users registered with their real names and as being under 14 years old, Douyin said Saturday. It said that the mandatory measures were designed to protect younger users from harmful content, which however prompts a question: if the online content served by the platform is "harmful", which would it exist in the first place. In that vein, the up-to 40 minutes a day of Douyin for younger users will henceforth serve up "edifying content such as science experiments, museum exhibitions and history lessons, the company said."
In other words, its popularity is about to crater.
To aid enforcement, Douyin urged parents to register their children with their real names and ages.
The new restrictions have come as the Chinese government seeks to rein in the country’s biggest internet companies, accusing them of violating antitrust, data-security and labor rules. The ruling Communist Party has also increasingly cast itself as the "guardian of morality" for the younger generation, cracking down on after-school tutoring (thus creating a black market for tutors which makes it even less accessible to anyone but the wealthiest) and emphasizing the need to clamp down on what it calls an obsession with unhealthy celebrity culture (thus further escalating the unhealthy obsession with celebrities).
In June, Beijing revised its Minor Protection Law, requiring digital-content providers to implement time-management tools, restrict certain features and limit purchases for users under the age of 18. Last month, China issued strict new measures aimed at curbing what authorities described as youth videogame addiction by limiting play time to three hours a week for most of the year.
According to the WSJ, Douyin’s primary domestic rival, Kuaishou Technology’s namesake app - backed by Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings - began offering a similar, if optional, “youth mode” feature in 2019, supplying preselected age-appropriate content and limiting daily app use to a maximum of 40 minutes between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Tencent’s WeChat, China’s ubiquitous do-everything messaging chat service, also offers an optional “youth mode,” which prevents users from accessing some games as well as the app’s payment function.
TikTok, Douyin’s international counterpart, published last month a number of measures aimed at addressing privacy and security concerns around young users—for instance setting accounts of users under 16 years of age to private by default and allowing parents to guide their children’s usage with a pairing function.