Was it a coincidence that the Chinese short video platform Tiktok announced new security measures for young people in the same month that its boss Shou Zi Chew has to testify before the US Congress? Among other things, the service will change the default settings for screen time for young people under the age of 18 to a maximum of 60 minutes a day, Tiktok said on Wednesday.
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However, the app is not blocked afterwards. "If teens decide to disable this new default limit and spend more than 100 minutes in a day on Tiktok, they will be prompted with a notice to set a daily screen time limit for themselves," Tiktok said. In one test, this approach increased the use of screen time management tools by 234 percent. At the same time, Tiktok is expanding the control options for parents.
The platform is under tremendous pressure from regulators, both in the United States and in the EU. In addition to allegations of espionage, this is primarily about the protection of minors. Among other things, youth advocates accuse the platform of not adequately shielding children and young people from hidden advertising and potentially harmful content, and that the app is addictive. Only in January, the EU Commission threatened Tiktok with a ban. It is unacceptable that users reach dangerous and sometimes even life-threatening content within a few seconds via seemingly funny and harmless features, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton was quoted as saying.
$10 billion in revenue
Tiktok wants to prevent a ban at all costs – while at the same time minimizing damage to its advertising business. According to estimates, the platform's revenue is said to be more than $10 billion, most of it from the advertising that is placed on it. However, the advertising industry is relaxed about the measures. Since the target group of Tiktok are 18- to 30-year-olds anyway, Klaus-Peter Schulz of the Association of Media Agencies OMG considers the damage to be low. Especially since no advertising is displayed to under 16-year-olds on the platform anyway.
Influencer agency We Are Era, which serves several personalities and brands active on the platform, thinks the increasing number of users will outweigh the potential loss. "Considering that the average time spent on Tiktok is 90 minutes per day, the restriction is a small but important step. While user numbers are rising rapidly at the same time, we do not expect any noticeable advertising revenue losses for creators," says Tobias Schiwek, head of the agency.
"Basically sensible measures"
In the case of youth protectors, the new measures seem to arrive. The responsible Federal Agency for Children and Youth Media Protection (BzKJ) "welcomes the announcement" that at the request of the F.A.Z. Tiktok is generally "open to impulses for the further development of the preventive measures of the service". If implemented well, the innovations could help young people to use the services safely and carefree. Firm agreements on screen time limitation as well as provider-side break impulses ensured "that children and young people learn a conscious, self-reflective use of digital media in everyday life". Deborah Woldemichael, head of the EU initiative Klicksafe, also says: "These are basically sensible measures." Tiktok's algorithm is so good that the excessive use of the service among young people is quite a problem.
However, such technical measures must also be pedagogically accompanied by the parents – otherwise "young people are smart enough to simply circumvent it". Parents would have to deal with the risks themselves and educate children about them. It is about dangerous content, instructions for self-harming behavior, for example, or the glorification of alcohol and drug use. In addition, there are so-called contact risks, i.e. that young people are sexually harassed in comments or private messages. Woldemichael advocates supplementing parents' famous dinner question "How was it at school?" with the question: "What did you experience on social media today?"
Create accounts together
In addition, parents should create the accounts together with their children. Only then would they be able to ensure that, for example, accompanied mode is activated. This allows you to set a daily time limit for teenagers, which can be adjusted for each day of the week. Parents can also get an overview of the time spent in the app.
But also the providers, in addition to Tiktok mainly Instagram and Snapchat, are obliged to make their services more secure. Above all, a reliable age check is a "decisive factor for the effectiveness of the measure," according to the BzKJ. Because the parents can't control everything. "There are now thousands of construction sites for parents in media education," says Iren Schulz, who holds a doctorate in communication science and media education. She also believes that schools have a duty to educate about the potential dangers on social media.
Neither Woldemichael nor Schulz think anything of a ban on Tiktok for children and young people under 18. "It's like forbidding a child chocolate," Schulz says. "When they grow up, they buy so much chocolate that it comes out to their ears." You don't learn how to deal with something if you forbid it.