And you thought hyperventilating Washington politicos were TikTok’s biggest problem.
The Chinese government on Wednesday unveiled new regulations capping the time minors can spend on their smartphones. The best part? They lay the task of enforcing the new law at the feet of online platforms, not parents. The move is a fresh blow in China’s long-running crackdown on tech companies, which had been surprisingly dormant lately until now, and it bruised the stock of gaming giant Tencent and Bytedance, owner of TikTok and its sister-app Douyi.
Think of the Children
China’s government has been stoking fears about various forms of online overuse for a while now. In 2019, it mandated that gaming companies limit children’s daily play time to 90 minutes and cut them off completely after 10 pm. In 2021, it clamped down even harder on gaming, cutting the limit to 60 minutes and only on Fridays, weekends, and holidays. It also withheld licenses for games for 8 months between 2021 and 2022, imposing a stranglehold on the industry’s supply of new games.
Last year, the ruling Communist Party announced it had vanquished what it termed youth gaming addiction, and now it’s turning its attention to social media and its most direct conduit to young users, their smartphones:
- The Cyberspace Administration of China said Wednesday that minors won’t be allowed to access the internet from their phones between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Minors aged 16 to 18 will only be allowed two hours of phone time per day.
- It’s unclear exactly how these laws will be enforced, although China’s government has once again placed the onus on platforms to make sure they’re booting kids off.
Moral Panic: Professor Andy Przybylski, a psychologist at the Oxford Internet Institute, told The Daily Upside there’s no reason to think internet addiction is a real thing. “There’s no compelling evidence that this is actually anything but well-being theater,” he said of China’s regulations. He added that South Korea attempted to impose similar laws on children’s internet usage in the last decade, but the company ended its online gaming curfew law in 2021. “When studies were done to test the effectiveness, it showed that it did not work either in terms of improving school grades or saving young people sleep,” he said. You heard it here first, kids: Game as much as you can!