TikTok can be good for your kids if you follow a few tips to stay safe


Tashatuvango/Shutterstock

Joanne Orlando, Western Sydney University

The video-sharing app TikTok is a hot political potato amid concerns over who has access to users’ personal data.

The United States has moved to ban the app. Other countries, including Australia, have expressed concern.

But does this mean your children who use this app are at risk? If you’re a parent, let me explain the issues and give you a few tips to make sure your kids stay safe.

A record-breaker

Never has an app for young people been so popular. By April this year the TikTok app had been downloaded more than 2 billion times worldwide.

The app recently broke all records for the most downloaded app in a quarterly period, with 315 million downloads globally in the first three months of 2020.

Its popularity with young Aussies has sky-rocketed. Around 1.6 million Australians use the app, including about one in five people born since 2006. That’s an estimated 537,000 young Australians.

Like all social media apps, TikTok siphons data about its users such as email address, contacts, IP address and geolocation information.

TikTok was fined $US5.8 million (A$8 million) to settle US government claims it illegally collected personal information from children.

As a Chinese company, ByteDance, owns TikTok, US President Donald Trump and others are also worried about the app handing over this data to the Chinese state. TikTok denies it does this.




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Just days ago the Trump administration signed an executive order to seek a ban on TikTok operating or interacting with US companies.

Youngsters still TikToking

There is no hint of this stopping our TikToking children. For them it’s business as usual, creating and uploading videos of themselves lip-syncing, singing, dancing or just talking.

The most recent trend on TikTok – Taylor Swift Love Story dance – has resulted in more than 1.5 million video uploads in around two weeks alone.

But the latest political issues with TikTok raise questions about whether children should be on this platform right now. More broadly, as we see copycat sites such as Instagram Reels launched, should children be using any social media platforms that focus on them sharing videos of themselves at all?

The pros and cons

The TikTok app has filled a genuine social need for this young age group. Social media sites can offer a sense of belonging to a group, such as a group focused on a particular interest, experience, social group or religion.

TikTok celebrates diversity and inclusivity. It can provide a place where young people can join together to support each other in their needs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, TikTok has had huge numbers of videos with coronavirus-related hashtags such as #quarantine (65 billion views), #happyathome (19.5 billion views) and #safehands (5.4 billion views).

Some of these videos are funny, some include song and dance. The World Health Organisation even posted its own youth-oriented videos on TikTok to provide young people with reliable public health advice about COVID-19.

The key benefit is the platform became a place where young people joined together from all corners of the planet, to understand and take the stressful edge off the pandemic for themselves and others their age. Where else could they do that? The mental health benefits this offers can be important.

Let’s get creative

Another benefit lies in the creativity TikTok centres on. Passive use of technology, such as scrolling and checking social media with no purpose, can lead to addictive types of screen behaviours for young people.

Whereas planning and creating content, such as making their own videos, is meaningful use of technology and curbs addictive technology behaviours. In other words, if young people are going to use technology, using it creatively, purposefully and with meaning is the type of use we want to encourage.

Users of TikTok must be at least 13 years old, although it does have a limited app for under 13s.

Know the risks

Like all social media platforms, children are engaging in a space in which others can contact them. They may be engaging in adult concepts that they are not yet mature enough for, such as love gone wrong or suggestively twerking to songs.




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The platform moves very quickly, with a huge amount of videos, likes and comments uploaded every day. Taking it all in can lead to cognitive overload. This can be distracting for children and decrease focus on other aspects of their life including schoolwork.

Three young girls video themselves on a smartphone.
How to stay safe and still have fun with TikTok.
Luiza Kamalova/Shutterstock

So here are a few tips for keeping your child safe, as well as getting the most out of the creative/educational aspects of TikTok.

  1. as with any social network, use privacy settings to limit how much information your child is sharing

  2. if your child is creating a video, make sure it is reviewed before it’s uploaded to ensure it doesn’t include content that can be misconstrued or have negative implications

  3. if a child younger than 13 wants to use the app, there’s a section for this younger age group that includes extra safety and privacy features

  4. if you’re okay with your child creating videos for TikTok, then doing it together or helping them plan and film the video can be a great parent-child bonding activity

  5. be aware of the collection of data by TikTok, encourage your child to be aware of it, and help them know what they are giving away and the implications for them.

Happy (safe) TikToking!The Conversation

Joanne Orlando, Researcher: Children and Technology, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Microsoft’s takeover would be a win for TikTok and tech giants – not users


Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University and Brianna O’Shea, Edith Cowan University

In what seems to be a common occurrence, Chinese video-sharing app TikTok is once again in the headlines.

After months of speculation about national security risks and users’ data being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party, US President Donald Trump has announced plans to ban TikTok in the United States any day now.

In response, a deal is being negotiated between TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and US software giant Microsoft. If successful, Microsoft will take over the app’s operations in the US and potentially also in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

A US ban would not be unprecedented. India barred TikTok last month, alongside dozens of other Chinese-owned apps and websites.

The Microsoft deal

According to reports, ByteDance has agreed to sell some of its TikTok operations to Microsoft. The deal, which is unlikely to progress before mid-September, would appease US regulators and could be seen as a way forward for TikTok in Australia.

Microsoft has indicated any takeover would include a complete security review and an offer of:

… continuing dialogue with the United States government, including with the president.

Moving ownership to a US company could help address concerns surrounding the perceived influence of the Chinese government over TikTok. But there will need to be strong oversight to ensure existing user data is transferred entirely to Microsoft’s control.

While Microsoft has pledged to ensure TikTok data are deleted “from servers outside the country after it is transferred” – it would be difficult to prove copies had not been made before control was handed over.

What’s more, a Microsoft-owned TikTok may not appeal to everyone. Some may think Microsoft is too closely tied to the US government, or may consider it a monopoly holder in the personal computing market.

Also, it would be naive to think foreign governments will not be able to covertly access US-stored user data, if they are so inclined.

Who will benefit?

Should the deal go ahead, it may open an opportunity for the Australian and New Zealand governments to align with a US-supported initiative.

Australia is still deciding how to proceed, with the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media due to hear from TikTok representatives on August 21. The committee has been tasked to look at the influence of social media on elections and the use of such platforms to distribute misinformation.

TikTok won’t be alone though – Facebook and Twitter are both due to attend. It is, however, unlikely the Microsoft acquisition will have much influence on the proceedings as the deal is still in the early days of discussion.

Microsoft’s acquisition may introduce fresh concerns about the US government’s influence over TikTok. Although, this is perhaps more politically palatable than potential Chinese government influence over the app – given the Chinese Communist Party’s unsavoury record of privacy abuses.

Perhaps the only winner from the deal would be ByteDance itself. A product that is increasingly disliked by foreign governments will only become harder to sell with time. It would make sense for ByteDance to cash out its asset sooner rather than later.

The deal would also likely earn it a significant payout, given TikTok’s millions of users.




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Are the risks real?

Despite ongoing allegations, there is no solid evidence of a threat to either national security or personal data from using TikTok. Many of the concerns hinge on data sovereignty – specifically, where data are stored and who can use and access them.

TikTok has responded to allegations by stating its user data are not stored in China and are not subject to Chinese government influence or access.

That said, while TikTok user data may well be stored outside China, it is unclear whether the Chinese government has already secured access, or will seek to do so later through legal channels.




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There are, however, other potential issues that may be driving the US’s concerns.

For instance, in 2018 an unexpected consequence of sharing fitness tracker data through the Strava website inadvertently revealed the locations of secret US military bases.

How a fitness app’s heat map accidentally uncovered military bases in the US. Youtube/The New York Times.

Thus, services such as TikTok which are meant to be relatively benign (if used ethically) can, under certain circumstances, present unexpected threats to national security. This may explain why Australia’s defence forces have banned the app.




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Another Trump power move?

Threats from the US against TikTok are not new.

The country’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated TikTok was being examined by US authorities in early July. And suggestions of a national security review go as far back as November last year.

However, in regards to Trump’s most recent threat, one contributing factor may be the personal feelings of the president himself.

There are theories much of the new hype over TikTok could be a reaction from Trump to an ill-fated political rally in Tulsa.

A number of TikTok users reserved tickets to the Trump rally and didn’t show up, as a protest against the president. The rally saw only a few thousand supporters attend, out of hundreds of thousands of allocated tickets. The Conversation

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and Brianna O’Shea, Lecturer, Ethical Hacking and Defense, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

TikTok tries to distance itself from Beijing, but will it be enough to avoid the global blacklist?



HAYOUNG JEON/EPA

Michael Keane, Curtin University and Haiqing Yu, RMIT University

TikTok, the made-in-China, video-sharing platform beloved by youth and influencers alike, is suddenly everywhere in our new world of COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing.

The platform’s growth has been tremendous, but this has come at a cost: it has come under increasing scrutiny from politicians in the US and allies like Australia over concerns about potential breaches of data security and the platform’s perceived ties to the Chinese government.

The Trump administration is now considering banning the platform – and Australia may well follow suit.

The controversies surrounding TikTok are centred around its Chinese origins, and its potential connections or compliance with the Chinese Communist Party and its authoritarian system.




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There are some reasons to be concerned. The platform is known to censor material deemed sensitive by the Chinese government.

Last year, for example, TikTok was accused of manipulating videos relating to Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and was forced to apologise for censoring a video criticising China’s crackdown on Uyghurs. This prompted claims of it being an arm of China’s state-run media system.

Digital security experts also point to the potential for the data TikTok collects from users to be sent to China’s servers.

But there is not clear evidence yet that TikTok poses a threat to the national security of countries like the US or Australia, or that the CCP interferes in the overseas operations of the company.

TikTok’s physical distancing from Beijing

TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based technology company Bytedance, which also operates a Chinese version of the platform called Douyin.

TikTok and Douyin are completely separate entities. They store their data in different centres and are governed by different sets of rules and business operations. TikTok is designed for the overseas market with its data stored in Singapore and the US, while Douyin targets solely the Chinese domestic market with its data stored in China.

As the pressure has mounted against the platform in the West, however, TikTok has shifted into survival mode through de-Sinicization. While users are posting videos on TikTok from the safety of their bedrooms, the company is deliberately distancing itself from Beijing.

Part of this distancing strategy involves announcing plans to move its operational headquarters outside China. According to industry reports in China this involved disbanding the Beijing-based overseas operation team, as well as cutting off the Chinese team’s access to its international data pool.




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The company also announced plans this week to add 10,000 jobs in the US, following a commitment to open a transparency centre in Los Angeles earlier this year.

TikTok’s most prominent PR move has been hiring key international players in communications, entertainment, government relations, IP protection, cybersecurity and global business solutions to change the way the company is structured and run in its overseas markets.

The appointment of non-Chinese executives, such as new US CEO Kevin Mayer (Walt Disney’s former top streaming executive), illustrates its global aspirations.

Of course, bringing foreigners into the corporate tent is not a new strategy for a Chinese tech firm. Alibaba and Huawei have done this with mixed success; Huawei, in particular, has failed to convince Western governments it would not pose a security risk to their 5G networks.

But TikTok is a different kind of proposition. Unlike other Chinese tech companies and platforms (such as WeChat), TikTok does not operate in China. The platform was created to be global.

TikTok and tit-for-tat retaliations

The response to TikTok’s rise in the US comes from the Donald Trump manual of political strategy. When the trade war between the US and China broke in January 2018, the two nations engaged in a tit-for-tat series of tariffs, from steel and automobiles to pork and soybeans.

In the latest round of recriminations and political bluster, Trump suggested he was considering using TikTok as a way to retaliate against China for its handling of the coronavirus. The idea is to erect a barrier against TikTok and ask like-minded allies to do the same.




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What this reaction precipitates, however, is a move toward national internet sovereignty. Some are calling this the age of the “splinternet”, rather than the internet as we know it, a borderless space.

For starters, erecting barriers against platforms offers limited effectiveness because users will find a way around them.

But banning TikTok, or any other Chinese platform, is also taking a page directly from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “little red book” for the digital age.

The list of Western platforms and news sites now blocked in China is very long. Playing China’s game of shuttering foreign sites will only provide more ammunition for Chinese propaganda against the West – and lead to more tit-for-tat closures.

Blacklisting companies or individuals based on country of origin and citing national security concerns sets a dangerous precedent. It’s akin to going down the path of digital McCarthyism; not only will this erode online freedom, it won’t address the more significant problems of data harvesting and news manipulation — practices that are not unique to Chinese platforms.

Some critics have instead argued for more coordinated global governance of tech companies. As Samm Sacks writes in Foreign Affairs,

we need stricter rules for data security and privacy for all companies, not just Chinese ones … regardless of country of origin, [to] manage online content in an era of misinformation.

As with all user-driven platforms, content moderation on TikTok runs up against issues of freedom of speech. Censorship will continue be a concern for the platform, and TikTok’s content moderators will inevitably be tested by those who want to use it to challenge China.

In the interest of maintaining its brand credibility as a truly global company, TikTok’s smartest move would be to continue to distance itself from Beijing — and for Beijing to do the same.The Conversation

Michael Keane, Professor of Chinese Digital Media and Culture, Curtin University and Haiqing Yu, Associate Professor, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

China could be using TikTok to spy on Australians, but banning it isn’t a simple fix



Shutterstock

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University and James Jin Kang, Edith Cowan University

In an age of isolation, video sharing platform TikTok has emerged as a bonding force for many. But recent headlines allege the service, owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance, is feeding users’ data to the Chinese Communist Party.

Earlier this week, the Herald Sun reported an unnamed federal MP was pushing for the app to be banned.

Following suit, Liberal senator Jim Molan said TikTok was being “used and abused” by the Chinese government, while Labor senator Jenny McAllister called on TikTok’s representatives to face the Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media.

TikTok has denied the accusations and rebuffed suggestions it should be banned in Australia.

But why is the federal government examining this app so closely? And could it really be a tool used by the Chinese government to spy on us?

A growing following

With a reported two billion downloads worldwide, TikTok’s Australian market is also significant. It has an estimated 1.6 million Aussie users, mostly aged 16-24 but with a growing number of older users too.

Simply, users generate short videos that are shared in the app, with many celebrities also signing up. But although TikTok seems to offer carefree entertainment, is there a darker side?

Australian television presenter Andrew Probyn had an unexpected TikTok moment.

What information is collected?

When installed, TikTok asks users to grant several permissions, including the use of the camera, microphone and contact list. However, it may also collect location data, along with information from other apps on the device.

Last year, a proposed class action lawsuit filed against TikTok in California claimed the company gathered users’ data, including phone numbers, emails, location, IP addresses, and social network contacts.

The lawsuit also stated TikTok concealed the transfer of data (including biometric data), and continued to harvest it even after the app was closed. This would mean when a user shoots a video and clicks the “next” button, the video could be automatically transferred to servers – without the user’s knowledge.




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Where is the data stored?

While TikTok’s headquarters are in Beijing, Australian general manager Lee Hunter recently claimed Australian users’ data was stored in Singapore.

A major challenge in sorting the truth from fiction lies in how we define “data”. While TikTok users’ details and videos may be stored in Singapore, there’s still potential for data to be extracted from this video content and the device and sent to China’s servers (although this hasn’t been proven to have happened).




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Hypothetically, it would then be possible for Chinese authorities to use biometric data to identify people using facial recognition. It would also be possible to map rooms and locations by using “feature extraction” (a machine learning method) on videos.

This could then aid the creation of new, advanced deepfake videos potentially targeting specific people.

While this may seem far-fetched, there have already been preemptive TikTok bans within major organisations to ensure sensitive information isn’t leaked.

For instance, the app has been banned from devices used by the Australian Defence Department, the US Department of Defence, and even entire countries – with the Indian government announcing a nationwide ban last month.

Privacy issues

ByteDance claims its data is stored in servers in the US and Singapore:

Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law.

TikTok’s privacy policy is ambiguous. As of January, it states:

You should understand that no data storage system or transmission of data over the Internet or any other public network can be guaranteed to be 100% secure.

From a user privacy perspective, TikTok has access to a device’s location and a user’s personal information. Although TikTok’s servers may be located outside China, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to confirm where this data could end up, or what it could be used for.

While the location of servers can be important, possession of data is more relevant. Once data is obtained, it can be used. If data is stored on a server in Australia, for instance, Australian jurisdiction applies. But once it is sent to another country, that country’s laws take precedent.

And if a TikTok user decides to delete their content from their device, or if there is a government-imposed ban, data can’t be retrospectively erased. Once information is transferred, it’s impossible to retract without the cooperation of the organisation or agency concerned (in this case, TikTok).

Can the government actually ban TikTok?

The fact is, enforcing an Australia-wide ban on TikTok isn’t a simple prospect. While the federal government could request the app’s removal from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, it could only do this for Australian regions and marketplaces.

Users in Australia would still be able to download TikTok from another region’s store, or via a third-party source. Also, banning the app won’t automatically remove it from devices on which it is already installed.

Blocking access to TikTok’s servers would be done in conjunction with internet service providers (such as Telstra and Optus), as they can block access to apps and websites. But users could still use proxies or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to circumvent these controls.

And even if TikTok was banned, citizen data already handed over would remain stored, and could be accessed for the foreseeable future.




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The Conversation


Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and James Jin Kang, Lecturer, Computing and Security, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Most adults have never heard of TikTok. That’s by design



Children’s engagement with digital devices is often driven by their desire for creative expression, entertainment and social interaction.
Shutterstock

Milovan Savic, Swinburne University of Technology and Kath Albury, Swinburne University of Technology

TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms on the planet, with more than 500 million active users. Only YouTube, Facebook and Instagram boast more.

TikTok allows users to create short videos with music, filters and other features. But while it’s now used globally by young people, many adult social media users have never heard of it. That’s by design.

In 2016, we conducted an ethnographic study on social media use among families with preteen children in Melbourne. Although most young participants in the study were considered by their parents to be “too young” for social media, some had accounts on a new platform called Musical.ly – now known as TikTok.

We soon realised that the preteen demographic was central to Musical.ly’s success – and to its evolution. The rapid increase of smartphone ownership among preteens presented a relatively uncaptured potential user base for social media.

Many big players have made recent attempts to capture this particular audience. Snapchat’s SnapKidz, YouTube Kids and most recently Facebook’s Messenger Kids all focused on creating a “child-friendly” version of the main app.

The creators of Musical.ly did their homework. They not only identified potential future users of the app, but also non-users that might hamper their success. In order to reach preteen audiences, social media apps need to get past the gatekeepers of preteen online engagement: the parents.




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Billing itself as a tool for creativity

Musical.ly’s description in app stores promoted it as a creative tool rather than a social media platform.
Author provided

From the beginning, Musical.ly presented itself as a tool for creativity and play rather than a social media platform. This tactic enabled Musical.ly to alleviate parental concerns associated with childrens’ use of social media. The app store description reads: “the world’s largest creative platform.”

Childrens’ engagement with digital devices is often driven by their desire for creative expression, entertainment and social interaction. Musical.ly successfully engineered playfulness and performativity as its key features.

For example, its cleverly coined “best fan forever” feature mimics elements of popular teen culture allowing users to establish a special connection with features like duet videos. “BFFs” individually record their videos of the same song, which the app then combines into a duet. In this way, users are incentivised to spend more time interacting together on the app.

Everything you can do on Instagram

While TikTok still bills itself a “community of global creators”, it’s more than just a toy for children. TikTok allows users to follow and interact with “public” profiles. They can follow each other (reciprocity not required), like and comment on videos, and send direct messages to each other.

In other words, TikTok meets all elements of a social networking site. In fact, the app’s infrastructure largely resembles Instagram.




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From Musical.ly to TikTok

The user base is the most valuable asset of any social media platform. During 2016 and 2017, Musical.ly, a social media start-up from China, was trending among most downloaded apps on both Apple and Google’s app stores.

This led to its acquisition by the Chinese media giant ByteDance for US$1 billion. We have seen similar scenarios before, when a successful start-up is acquired by a bigger player on the market.

When it acquired Musical.ly, ByteDance was mostly focused on news and was largely absent from social media landscape. But it did own a short-video sharing platform branded as Douyin. At the time, Douyin was not well known outside of China.

In 2018, ByteDance decided to merge Douyin and Musical.ly under the name TikTok. While the merger brought some new features, the process was virtually undetectable to users, who kept their accounts and all preexisting content and followers.

In other words, overnight the Musical.ly user database became the TikTok user database. While Musical.ly was more popular among global north, TikTok dominated the Asian market, positioning the newly merged app for a wider global audience reach.

Unwanted attention

In its early days TikTok managed to fly under the radar, but its rapid growth and growing user base has brought the app unwanted public scrutiny.

In 2018 the Indonesian government temporarily banned the app amid accusations it was disseminating pornography and blasphemy. In February 2019, India’s High court requested both Google and Apple remove TikTok from Indian app stores following accusations the platform was spreading pornographic and violent content.

Possibly the largest hit came earlier this year when US Federal Trade Commission fined TikTok a record-setting US$5.7 million (A$8.2 million) for collecting and storing the personal information of people under the age of 13 without obtaining parental consent (as required by law).

As TikTok has come to the public’s attention, parents and commentators have increasingly expressed concerns regarding potential predatory behaviour, bullying and exposure to the age-inappropriate content on the app.




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Challenging US social media dominance

Some may see TikTok as just another social media platform that will soon disappear, but it’s more than that. It’s the first social media platform based in China that commands unparalleled popularity in both Asian and Western markets.

This undermines the dominance of US companies on the global social media market. TikTok’s challenge going forward will be to live up to the promise of networked play and creativity, while ensuring the personal safety and data security of its users.The Conversation

Milovan Savic, PhD Candidate, Swinburne University of Technology and Kath Albury, Professor of Media and Communication, Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

TikTok is popular, but Chinese apps still have a lot to learn about global markets



File 20190328 139356 1t02jd3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
TikTok is a music and video sharing app – and it’s huge.
Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock

Xu Chen, Queensland University of Technology

If Twitter is the revolutionary version of blogging, TikTok might be the revolutionary version of YouTube. Both Twitter and TikTok encourage their users to post shorter, more fragmented content than their precursors.

TikTok, owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance, is the international version of China’s short video sharing app, Douyin.

This is TikTok.

Presently the app is considered one of the most valuable start-ups on the planet.

TikTok is not the first Chinese social media platform to go international, although it is likely the first to gain traction with non-Chinese users globally. WeChat and other Chinese social media platforms that have gone global have, in fact, been predominately used by international Chinese citizens.




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But TikTok is not yet a complete success story. The video-sharing platform may have broken into some non-Chinese markets, but it still has a lot to learn when it comes to outside regulations and culture.

And this is true for Chinese apps generally – they face obstacles refining their global strategies, particularly in navigating China’s notorious internet censorship.

Chinese social media is already going global

Some scholars attribute the success of Chinese social media to the censorship and isolation of China’s internet. This is because China’s Great Firewall prevents foreign social media from entering the Chinese market.

Nevertheless, many China-based social media platforms, such as Weibo, WeChat, You Ku, Blued and Douyin, are seeking to expand into the global market.

WeChat, for instance, tried (and failed) to expand into the non-Chinese overseas market, even hiring soccer star Lionel Messi to front their advertising campaign.

Unlike the global strategies of its peers, ByteDance has never merged Chinese and international digital realms. Instead, it created a separate app, TikTok, specifically for going abroad.

TikTok and Douyin.
Screenshot of the author’s phone

In fact, ByteDance spent A$1.42 billion to purchase Musical.ly, to target the teenage market in the US. On August 2, 2018, ByteDance merged Musical.ly into TikTok, an exceptional boost for TikTok’s success.

TikTok is trying to remove its Chinese roots

Douyin and TikTok are branded as the same product, but they each have distinct characteristics depending on their marketing target. This is wise for ByteDance’s global ambition, given Chinese internet culture doesn’t always translate in a global context.

Interfaces of TikTok (left) vs Douyin (right)
Author provided (screenshot of app interfaces)

For instance, TikTok, unlike Douyin, has a set of westernised stickers and effects on its interface, as you can see in the picture above.

Still, some prevailing Chinese traits appear in TikTok that emerged from Douyin, such as a meibai (美白, literally meaning “beautify whitening”) camera tool.

A preview photo of TikTok from an Australian app store.
Author provided, Author provided

But the pursuit of white skin isn’t a social motivator in most western countries, and technological constraints like this are easily noticed.

Despite ByteDance’s efforts to minimise Chinese culture in its international app, it is still difficult for TikTok to fully understand western culture.

And this is especially true of other Chinese social media platforms, which don’t really endeavour to incorporate global cultures at all. For instance, WeChat’s mobile payment service, WeChat Pay, only allows Chinese citizens with a Chinese bank account to set up an account.

Global app with Chinese regulations

In April 2018, Chinese internet regulators accused ByteDance, of spreading “unwholesome” content through Douyin.

This includes child users who are making money by live streaming or posting advertising videos on Douyin. And to gain more Douyin followers, some children, for instance, have been reported as recording suggestive gestures or dances.

ByteDance’s chief executive Zhang Yiming responded by saying the company would increase its content moderation team from 6,000 staff members to 10,000. But ByteDance refused to disclose how many of these 10,000 moderators would work for TikTok, and whether the content standards for American users are the same as those for Chinese users.




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Chief executive of Common Sense Media James P Steyer said children on TikTok are “significantly too young for it”.

It’s not that the content on TikTok isn’t okay for your 15-year-old. It’s what happens to your six or seven-year-old.

Last month, TikTok was penalised A$8 million by the US Federal Trade Commission due to its violation of Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

ByteDance’s low-level attention to underage users on Douyin and TikTok shows the lack of structural mechanisms in place for protecting children in China. And there are possibilities for more unforeseen circumstances due to nontransparent regulation of social media within China.

While TikTok agreed to pay the largest ever penalty in a children’s privacy case in the US, there is still much for it to learn and adapt in the global market.The Conversation

Xu Chen, PhD candidate; sessional academic, Queensland University of Technology

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