Is TikTok different in China? This is what you should know

Photo of author


He push in Washington, DC, for a potential tiktok ban has drawn increasing scrutiny towards the app over data privacy risks linked to Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance.

In making their case, some critics point to a supposedly tamer version of the app in China, suggesting ByteDance launched a more powerful product in the US to hook consumers and absorb their data.

However, experts who spoke to ABC News downplayed content-related differences between TikTok and its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, saying the distinctions are largely due to strict regulations in China focused on the networks’ use. on the part of young people and political dissidence.

The differences between the two apps highlight a comparatively permissive legal environment for social media in the United States, which protects free speech but also leaves some users (especially young ones) vulnerable to addictive behavior, experts said.

TikTok did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. In response to an earlier request, TikTok condemned the push for a possible ban in the United States as a violation of the right to freely express oneself.

“This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a complete ban on TikTok in the United States. The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their constitutional right to free expression. This will harm millions of businesses, deny artists an audience and will destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country,” a TikTok spokesperson said.

TikTok has faced growth scrutiny fearing that user data could fall into the possession of the Chinese government and that China could use the app as a weapon to spread misinformation.

There is little evidence that TikTok has shared US user data with the Chinese government or that the Chinese government has asked the app to do so, cybersecurity experts. previously mentioned ABC News.

The version of Douyin used by Chinese adults resembles U.S.-based TikTok, except for some pro-Chinese Communist Party propaganda and a lack of alternative views on hot-button issues, said Kaiser Kuo, host of “Sinica Podcast”, an American Podcast about current affairs in China.

“It’s essentially the same thing,” Kuo told ABC News. “There are smashed guitarists and funny skits. People showing off the material elements of life. People making clever recipes.”

“It’s people doing dance moves or unboxing or whatever you find on TikTok here and there, except it’s censored,” Kuo added.

Some experts said more notable differences between TikTok and Douyin emerge when the respective apps are looked at through the lens of young users. In the United States, children experience the same version of TikTok as adults, while in China children see a modified version of Douyin that includes more educational content, they said.

In recent years, China has cracked down on Internet use among children. In 2021, the Chinese government enacted a law calling for “the creation and dissemination of online content that promotes the healthy growth of minors.”

That same year, Douyin imposed a daily limit of 40 minutes for users under 14 years old. Last year, Chinese regulators introduced a rule that would limit daily smartphone screen time for children under 18 to two hours a day.

“There are very different laws about how companies in China can target children,” Aynne Kokas, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and author of “Trafficking Data: How China is Winning the Battle for Digital,” told ABC News. Sovereignty”. .

“The US regulatory environment is very permissive and allows deeply addictive applications to emerge,” Kokas added.

Due to comparatively strict data privacy regulations in China, ByteDance accesses less user data from Douyin than from TikTok, Kokas said. However, he added, Chinese privacy protections that limit corporate conduct do not prevent the government from accessing vast amounts of data.

“That’s a really important warning,” Kokas said.

While Congress has yet to regulate young people’s use of social media, lawmakers in some states have begun pushing for reforms. In June, Connecticut amended its data privacy law to require online platforms to conduct child safety screenings and help young users stay away from harmful posts. Lawmakers in a handful of states have followed suit with similar proposals.

Mark Jia, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, noted “substantial similarities” between TikTok and Douyin overall, except for some differences related to e-commerce and search functions.

But, he added, the prevalence of educational content on the youth version of TikTok is likely due to strict regulations and demand for such videos among children preparing for high-stakes competitive exams.

The content on Douyin’s children’s version is the result of “top-down pressure from authorities as well as bottom-up demand from its users,” Jia said.

While acknowledging similarities between TikTok and Douyin, experts who spoke to ABC News disagreed about the threat to American security posed by TikTok.

Kokas, of the University of Virginia, said dependence on TikTok for US economic activity and political dialogue could end up being “fundamentally destabilizing.” In contrast, Kuo of the “Sinica Podcast” dismissed the backlash against TikTok as a “moral panic.”

-Karson Yiu of ABC News contributed to this report.

Leave a comment