Recently, I found an article in a newspaper about new regulations by the Chinese government to limit internet use by children and young people. It was titled “Maximum 40 minutes a day – in China, the state regulates how long children are allowed to surf the internet”. A few weeks earlier, China’s guidelines on the consumption of online games had already been reported.1 I was very pleased that the newspaper reported on this development. For a long time, China was referred to (often with an envious look) as the country of the digital revolution. “Maybe a role model for us in this respect?” I asked myself before I started reading. From previous research, I knew that the Chinese authorities had been working for several years to counteract the negative consequences of media use among children and young people through appropriate measures.2
Restricted internet use
Currently, a law is planned that regulates internet access for children and young people. For children up to the age of eight, a maximum of 40 minutes per day is planned. Children and young people between the ages of eight and sixteen should have one hour of online time per day, and for those between the ages of sixteen and eighteen it would be two hours per day. Accordingly, online game companies must offer a youth mode. Citizens and entrepreneurs had the opportunity to express their opinion until 2 September. The date when the law is to come into force is still open.
Online games – a source of
danger for gambling addiction
As early as 2021, one could read in the media that the Chinese government wanted to limit the online gaming time of children and young people. On the one hand, the increase in gaming addicts was recognised as a problem, as were health problems such as short-sightedness and obesity and the focus of children’s and young people’s attention on gaming.
At the time, the business newspaper “Economic Information Daily”, part of the state news agency Xinhua, had clear words on the subject, characterising video games as “spiritual opium” and “electronic drugs” that would prevent children from learning and alienate them from their own culture3 (a formulation it later relativised). It demanded that gaming platforms take social responsibility and not simply chase profits. With a new regulation, children and young people under the age of 18 should therefore only be allowed to play games on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, for one hour at a time from 8 pm to 9 pm. The providers of these games were obliged to set up appropriate access restrictions and to ensure through the registration mode that the users registered with their real names and their age. Online companies that do not implement these measures should be prosecuted by law.
Social media –
Protection from certain contents
Another regulation concerned the time of use of social media. In China (and also here), TikTok is currently very popular, which only works with a running camera. TikTok is a Chinese company, but TikTok China looks completely different from TikTok here. In China, brutal images and porn are absent, as are the challenges popular with children and young people. The new regulation limits the daily usage time for children under 16: After 60 minutes of daily use, the screen goes black. The registration mode prevents children from circumventing these regulations. It is done by video call with an ID presented. For children who do not yet have one, a parent must do this and hold the birth certificate up to the camera. It is therefore difficult to cheat when setting up an account or to set up an anonymous account. Users are registered with their name, birthday and all other details, and it is no problem to switch the offer of pictures and films accordingly – and to protect the children and young people.
“Challenges” and war
videos are banned in China
Many adults in this country are hardly aware of what is being presented to children and young people in the form of the above-mentioned “Challenges”. These are instructions for dangerous or even pornographic “tasks” that they are supposed to document on film and post online.
A particularly disgusting example was (in our latitudes), topical a year ago, the so-called blackout challenge. It was an instructional video on how to strangle oneself with a certain knot that – done correctly – was supposed to come undone the moment the person fainted. This challenge had claimed a few lives around the world. The most recent fatality was an eight-year-old girl in England in front of a running camera, i. e., it was broadcast live. Such challenges are forbidden in China, and Chinese children are not allowed to see war videos because the programme’s algorithms have to be switched accordingly.
It is also little known that with the start of the Ukraine war, the war raged more blatantly on TikTok than on other social media (such as Twitter). War videos appeared that violated international law and the Geneva Conventions. Thus, the names of fallen soldiers could be read unpixellated on their uniforms. Chinese children do not get to see such videos (in our country, they are only deleted when someone indicates them. Until then, however, they were clicked on by countless people).
And what about us?
So much for the facts: China regulates access for underage children and young people to online games, social media and the internet. It drew the consequences from the experiences made in this technophile country in the previous years.
If you keep your eyes and ears open, you will be confronted with the same problems that China is facing with its regulations. Digital media are everywhere, even among the youngest children. They are exposed to cyber-bullying, sexual harassment, violent videos, war games. Resulting mental disorders and gambling addiction are serious problems that hinder the healthy development of children. In our country, they belong to the fields of work of psychologists and paediatricians and initially not to state action to protect children and young people as in China. The need for action is huge. By the way: In 2021, video games and gaming “generated” a turnover of 1.32 billion Swiss francs in Switzerland. By 2026, an increase to 1.79 billion Swiss francs is forecast.4
through manipulation techniques
All the more astonishing is the tone with which the Chinese efforts to protect their children and young people are reported in this country. The two articles talk about “control”, “draconian measures”, “will of those in power”, “educate politically”, “consolidate ideologically”, “nationalist culture”, “moral keeper of the grail”, a “state leadership as moral authority”, a “conservative world view of the Chinese head of state and government Xi Jiping”, etc., and measures that are “unlikely to be very effective”. Obviously, objective reporting has been replaced by opinion control with a manipulation technique known in the literature as “framing”. This means that a certain frame of interpretation is given to an issue so that it appears in the desired light, even if there were other possibilities. In this case, the aim seems to be to make Chinese regulations appear authoritarian, conservative and encroaching. An alternative possibility would be to see the government’s efforts as an attempt to protect the psychological and physical development of the growing generation.
Of course, it is likely that there will also be loopholes in these regulations and people looking for ways to circumvent them. Just as, for example, speeding drivers in our country try to avoid punishment with speed trap apps, thereby endangering themselves and others. No one would want to lift the speed limits because of this. On the contrary: it is a good sign for a society when it looks for solutions to problems. Especially on the internet, many things are not yet regulated. As a reminder, we are dealing with a very young technology. The first smartphone came in 2007, so these devices are only 16 years old, not even of age yet, and today they are already in the possession of young children. The task at hand is therefore to counter this anarchistic state of affairs with rules and laws and appropriate parental and school education. Our countries that pride themselves as Western democracies could well compete with China’s efforts and by taking appropriate measures! Wouldn’t that have been a concrete election campaign issue?
By the way: Chinese corporations
One of the largest Chinese internet companies is Tencent. It produces online games for the global market. Of course, the requirements and laws of their government do not leave them unscathed. But here, too, a solution is being considered: Tencent, together with the online provider Alibaba and other companies, is to produce improved computer components, so-called computer chips5, which are currently in great demand and should make China independent of foreign imports. A substitute market for the profits made at the expense of children and young people! •
1 “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 17 October 2023 and “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 1 September 2023
2 cf. Kreiss, Christian. “Social media and excessive internet use also harm economic capacity”; In: Current Concerns No 22 of 31 October 2023
3 A characterisation reminiscent of the Opium War, which began the period of China’s subjugation to the economic interests of major Western powers. A description that should not simply be shelved.
5 A computer chip contains millions of microscopic electronic components called transistors that transmit data signals. They are found in our everyday appliances from microwaves to toothbrushes.
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