Is TikTok made to be more addictive in the U.S. than it is in China?

In an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, a tech expert explained that the US version of TikTok – a Chinese social media platform – differs from the Chinese version of the app, comparing the two experiences to opium and spinach.

China’s version of TikTok

Though they’re both owned by ByteDance, Douyin — China’s version of TikTok — offers a different version of the social media app that’s unavailable to the rest of the world, especially kids.

“It’s almost as if they realize technology is affecting how children develop, and they’re making their home version a spinach version of TikTok while shipping the opium version to the rest of the world,” Tristan Harris, a former Google Staffer and advocate for social media ethics said about China’s approach to TikTok.

“If you’re under 14, they’ll 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 limited to 40 minutes per day on the app.

“There’s a poll of youth in the US and China that asked, ‘What’s the most ambitious career you want to have?’ and in the US, the #1 was a social media influencer, and in China, the #1 was an astronaut,” Harris said. “You allow these two societies to play out for a few generations, and I can tell you what your world will be like.”

How is the US doing?

In the US, TikTok is known for its addictive, personalized, and predictive algorithm, specifically tailored to the interests of those who scroll, according to research by The Wall Street Journal.

TikTok doesn’t have a special version for kids, and limits are entirely voluntary and can be set up by parents if they wish, according to 60 Minutes.

dr Nia Williams, a researcher at Bangor University who specializes in children’s mental health, told the BBC that TikTok’s “short and sweet” video format is designed to deliver bursts of dopamine with every video, keeping users hooked power.

“TikTok has videos that you might find funny and you want to watch them because they make you feel good. That’s the core of all possible dependencies,” Williams said. “Whatever you search on TikTok, this algorithm is maintained. The more you look for things you like, the more they will know what you like, and that will feed you.”

“It’s a multi-million pound industry and they’re going to make money from ads that are fed into different algorithms,” Williams added.

To become active

According to previous reports from Deseret News, the FBI recently expressed concern about the personal information TikTok collects, citing potential national security concerns. In 2020, President Donald Trump voiced his own concerns about the app and attempted to ban its use in the United States. His efforts were interrupted by President Joe Biden in 2021, according to Deseret News.

Earlier this year, at least eight states launched an investigation into TikTok to examine the app’s impact on the mental health of teens and children, the Deseret News reported.

“Our children are growing up in the age of social media – and many feel they need to measure the filtered versions of reality they see on their screens. We know this is taking a devastating toll on children’s mental health and well-being,” said Rob Bonta, California Attorney General.