What impact does Douyin have on Chinese teens?
By Lin Rui, Lu Baixuan and Wei Zijun | People's Daily app
15:51, March 05, 2023


"I like Douyin," says Ding, a 15-year-old high school student in Beijing.

“Douyin allows me to learn more about new things and makes me happy.”

But she uninstalls Douyin, the Chinese mainland version of TikTok, several times a day because she worries the popular video app will distract her from her studies.

However, whenever she takes a break, she installs the app again.

As a new form of media, Douyin is a channel for young people to understand society, learn about the world and express themselves, experts say.

At the same time, Douyin’s recommendation algorithm is sticky and experts agree that teenagers need guidance to make the best use of the platform.

Douyin charm

Chen Changfeng, executive vice dean at the School of Journalism and Communication at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, says: “Douyin is a new form of media right now so it's normal for young people to use it – and they're having a lot of fun.”

Douyin is a very normal channel for young people to understand society, acquire knowledge or express themselves, she says.

“The first time I learned about Douyin was because I watched a program sponsored by Douyin,” 22-year-old Ma Zeming recalls.

“I thought it was novel to watch a video in just 10 seconds.”

Most users watch these short videos for entertainment or to learn new skills. Food, makeup, basketball, music, outdoor adventure, live-streaming and humorous videos are favorites.

The number of daily active Douyin users exceeded 600 million in China in June 2021, according to data from the platform.

Ma wants to record her life and show the true face of studying abroad, in line with Douyin's slogan, “Recording a beautiful life."

“I occasionally post some videos about my own life studying abroad,” Ma says.

“For example, how do international students go to school? How do we cook? How do we relax and have fun?”

Seventeen-year-old Liu Zuer says Douyin helps her study by allowing her to access the latest news or get ideas for her creative art.

Qin Chunhua, director of the Peking University Institute of Examination Research, says the internet is a way of life for today’s generation of children. Children might not be able to function properly in society without smart electronic devices, Qin says.

“It is important to allow children to develop healthy and normal relationships with electronic products.”

Gen Z, the generation raised on Douyin, have found unique e-commerce and live-streaming opportunities on the platform.

Zhang Junjie, 26, posts about food and beauty products from his hometown of Songyang in Zhejiang Province for his 2.38 million followers to enjoy. He sells honey, dried bamboo shoots, dried sweet potatoes and persimmons from the village to the entire country.

Zhang’s annual sales reached 15 million yuan ($2.17 million), driving employment and income for the entire village.

Kuaishou, another popular short-video platform in China, has created 34.63 million job opportunities, according to a March 2022 report by Beijing’s School of Labor and Human Resources, Renmin University of China.

Guidance needed

Qin says short-video platforms are the same as movies, television shows, video games and even books.

“As an entertainment tool, it has both positive and negative sides,” Qin says.

Short-video platforms have three problems, Qin says. First, if short videos replace books, this will hinder children's attention spans. Second, algorithms narrow down the information presented to users based on their usage and interests, which is detrimental to children’s overall understanding of the world. Third, the spread of harmful information cannot be stopped.

The government is the regulator of the market and must oversee the control of harmful information on short-video platforms. Schools should help students establish a healthy and normal relationship with electronic products through systematic education, and enhance students’ self-control and self-management abilities. Additionally, the most important thing for parents is to set a good example.

“If you don't want your kids to watch short videos all day, stop using your phone in front of them all the time first,” Qin notes.

Li Jingyi, an official in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, suggests schools should set up media law courses to guide students to correctly understand possible criminal behavior such as cyber-fraud and sexual assault.

The Douyin platform has already rolled out protective measures for teenagers.

Starting in September 2021, users under 14 must undergo real-name authentication to use Douyin.

Young users Douyin use should not exceed 40 minutes a day and they cannot sign into the platform from 10 pm to 6 am.

Douyin also uses machine models, manual review and user reports to identify and eliminate pornography, vulgarity and content presenting bad values.

Douyin data shows that in 2022, every day Douyin flagged 45,000 items of content considered harmful to the physical and mental health of young people.

“Parents should be more rational and not forbid their children to use the platform,” Chen says.

“At the same time, we should make the best use of Douyin, give children some good resources and let them show us some positive things through Douyin in their studies or lives.”