Digital opium VS. Spinachtok

Posted by Flux on 

9 April 2024

What’s trending?

In a November 2022 interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes”, technology ethicist and former Google employee Tristan Harris observed that the US version of TikTok is different from the Chinese version of the app, comparing the two experiences to opium and spinach. The term “spinach” suggests a healthy and nourishing influence on users whereas “opium” suggests something addictive and harmful. “If you’re under 14 years old, they show you science experiments you can do at home, museum exhibits, patriotism videos and educational videos,” said Harris about the app in China.  In contrast, it’s been noted that the global version is full of trivial stuff — twerking teens and frivolous influencers. 

Why is it important?

The content consumed during formative years can have a lasting impact on cognitive, emotional, and social development, so what kids watch matters. In 2019, a survey by toy company Lego of children from the US, UK and China found that most children from the US and UK wanted to be social media influencers when they grow up, while their Chinese counterparts mostly aspired to become astronauts. There are those who claim that the difference in content is a deliberate decision by TikTok’s Chinese owners ByteDance to export a version of the app that prioritises engagement over wellbeing but there is no proof of this. A 2022 podcast by Crowder and Crew even argued that TikTok is designed to shape the next generation by rewarding stupidity. However the content differences may well be due to cultural and regulatory practices. The Chinese internet environment is more controlled, allowing the government and companies to have direct influence over shaping content. In contrast, the decision-making process of liberal democracies is more open, deliberative and time-consuming. Western governments tend to have less direct control over social media platforms. 

What can policymakers do about it?

Regulation of social media platforms is a hotly debated topic, vexing lawmakers in almost every democracy. Policymakers can work toward creating a safer and more suitable social media environment for children.  Enforce age-appropriate content regulations and guidelines for social media platforms. This could involve setting specific standards for what content is acceptable for different age groups and ensuring platforms comply with these standards.  Implement robust parental control features on social media platforms that allow parents to monitor and control their children’s online activities. This could include options to limit access to certain types of content, set usage time limits, and control who can interact with their children. Encourage collaboration between policymakers and social media platforms to develop child-friendly versions of apps or settings that cater specifically to younger users. Require social media platforms to be more transparent about their content moderation policies, algorithms, and data collection practices. Encourage content creators to produce more child-friendly and educational content by providing incentives, support, or funding for such initiatives.

By Flux Trends 

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