Although the same Chinese company owns them, the Chinese version of TikTok significantly differs from the Western version. In a “60 Minutes” interview with CBS, a tech expert explained how the Western version of the Chinese-owned TikTok differs from the Chinese version, comparing the two experiences to “opium and spinach.”
Although ByteDance owns both, Douyin – the Chinese version of TikTok – offers a different version of the social media app that is not available worldwide, especially for children. This Chinese TikTok has tight controls for users under the age of 14.
“It’s almost as if they recognize that technology affects children’s development, and they’re making their domestic version a spinach version of TikTok while delivering the opium version to the rest of the world,” Tristan Harris, a former Google employee and social media ethics advocate said of China’s approach to TikTok.
“If you’re under 14, they show you science experiments you can do at home, museum exhibits, patriotism videos, and educational videos,” Harris said, according to “60 Minutes,” adding that children in China are only allowed to spend 40 minutes a day on the app. The Chinese TikTok is spinach for kids to efficiently educate them.
“There’s a survey of preschool-aged kids in the U.S. and China that asked, what career do you most aspire to, and in the U.S., the No. 1 was a social media influencer, and in China, the No. 1 was an astronaut,” Harris said. “Let those two societies play out for a few generations, and I can tell you what your world will look like then.”
Western TikTok is known for its addictive, personalized, and predictive algorithm specifically tailored to the interests of those scrolling. It does not have a particular version for children, and the restrictions are entirely voluntary and can be set up by parents if they so choose, according to “60 Minutes.” It’s opium for kids.
Dr Nia Williams, a researcher at Bangor University specializing in children’s mental health, told the BBC that TikTok’s “short and sweet” video format is designed to trigger dopamine surges with each video and get users hooked.
“On TikTok, there are videos you find funny and want to watch because they make you feel good. That’s the main core of all kinds of addictions,” Williams said. “Whatever you search for on TikTok, that algorithm is maintained. The more you search for things you like, the more they know what you like, and that’s what you get fed.”
“It’s a multimillion-pound industry, and they’re going to make money off advertising that goes into different algorithms,” Williams added.