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The new TikTok policies for teenagers

Privacy please!

By Alessandra Nava

TikTok runs fast&furious, just like those old cowboys conquering the Far West. The algorithms change day by day, becoming more and more sophisticated and ready to give us ad hoc packaged content that we did not know we needed, ready to fill our spare times every now and then, while being busy waiting for other things to happen.

It’s a young and constantly evolving social network, just like most of its users, for the vast majority Gen Zs riding the new popular wave, and the newborn Gen Alpha (born from 2010 onwards), which closes and reopens the circle in a refreshing and disturbing way at the same time.

After too many devastating news about children who have found themselves victims of bullying, self-harm, or who sadly lost their lives due to dynamics linked to the use of TikTok, the social network made in China has decided to adopt a series of restrictive policies that protect minors.

A handful of days ago, the big company announced that it will join the Technology Coalition, an organization that works to protect minors from online sexual exploitation and abuse.

Underage users, from 13 to 17 years old, will automatically have a private profile, and those under 16 will not be able to access the direct messaging mode, an option similar to Instagram DMs that also applies to TikTok, where you can send many videos and open endless conversations.

I had the pleasure and the pain of being part of a hybrid generation, the first, and also the last, one who grew up learning to read and write with (a lot of) pen and paper, who used videotapes to watch cartoons and listened to music from the home stereo, and who only approached the world of smartphones as a teenager.

Always poised between analog and digital, I, born in 1998, do not find myself in the 24/7 frenzy of the excessive use of social media as a triune, irreplaceable and necessary means of expression.

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But many young people, especially those much younger than me, grew up with iPhones and iPads on the agenda, fascinated by the blue screens in which very different worlds materialized, mixed with their pixelated faces.

I like to see how today's preteens express themselves with so much spontaneity and a hint of drama on TikTok: the fun ballets, the catchy songs, the witty filters, ... they’re all too mesmerizing, easy to use, and a great starting point for creating a lot of different things. But precisely because children enjoy a delicate and without judgment naivety, they must be protected from a fierce, malicious and opportunistic world of older users (and even smaller ones, children know how carry around their ruthless honesty).

I think it is right to privatize the channels of the very young, it is a way to protect them from prying eyes and comments, and also to gradually educate them to a conscious use of social media, where everything can be easily misrepresented because it enjoys a rare malleability. It is right that such a fluid, fluctuating, always torn apart universe which is that of adolescence, remains secret and open only to those who decide to let you in.

Sure, the very young could accept anyone who requests the follow, and find prying comments under their posts. It is a small step into the Wild West of social media, but it is always a step forward. More privacy for everyone, the real luxury to be granted to young digital users (and which everyone should allow themselves).