TikTok announced on Wednesday that accounts belonging to users under the age of 18 will have a default 60-minute daily screen time limit in the coming weeks. This follows growing concerns among different governments about the app’s security and its ability to alter its algorithm to push certain posts. The update also mirrors gaming rules imposed on minors in China, where TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is based. In 2021, Chinese authorities issued new rules that barred minors from playing online games for only an hour a day and only on Fridays, weekends and public holidays – an effort to curb internet addiction.
In the U.S., families have struggled with limiting the amount of time their children spend on the Chinese-owned video sharing app. According to the Pew Research Center, about two-third of Americans teens use TikTok. Cormac Keenan, head of trust and safety at TikTok said in a blog post Wednesday that when the 60-minute limit is reached, minors will be prompted to enter a passcode and make an “active decision” to keep watching. For accounts where the user is under the age of 13, a parent or guardian will have to set or enter an existing passcode to allow 30 minutes of extra viewing time once the initial 60-minute limit is reached. TikTok said it came up with the 60-minute threshold by consulting academic research and experts from the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital.
There have long been concerns about what minors are exposed to on social media and the potential harm it might do. A report released late last year suggested that TikTok’s algorithms are promoting videos about self-harm and eating disorders to vulnerable teens. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook parent Meta, has also faced similar accusations. Social media algorithms work by identifying topics and content of interest to a user, who is then sent more of the same as a way to maximize their time on the site. But social media critics say the same algorithms that promote content about a particular sports team, hobby or dance craze can send users down a rabbit hole of harmful content.
TikTok also said Wednesday that it will also begin prompting teens to set a daily screen time limit if they opt out of the 60-minute default. The company will send weekly inbox notifications to teen accounts with a screen time recap. Some of TikTok’s existing safety features for teen accounts include having accounts set to private by default for those between the ages of 13 and 15 and providing direct messaging availability only to those accounts where the user is 16 or older.
Outside of exorbitant use by some minors, there are growing concern about the app around the world. The European Parliament, the European Commission and the EU Council have banned TikTok from being installed on official devices. That follows similar actions taken by the U.S. federal government, Congress and more than half of the 50 U.S. states. Canada has also banned it from government devices. House republicans have introduced a bill that will give President Joe Biden the ability to ban the app nationwide, which has faced opposition from some civil liberties organizations who argue such a move would be unconstitutional.