ocial media has a privacy problem. From concern about who owns our TikTok data to advanced algorithmic preferences secretly stored on Instagram, safety on digital platforms has always been a concern. However, as the prime demographics that engage the most on these platforms get younger and younger, it is the responsibility of the companies that own the platforms to ensure the safety of its users along the way.
On Jan. 13, 2021, TikTok released a statement saying it was going to strengthen its privacy and safety for younger users on the platform. In this release, the Head of US Safety, Eric Han, stated TikTok would “[change] the default privacy setting for all registered accounts ages 13-15 to private,” additionally stating that “with a private TikTok account, only someone who the user approves as a follower can view their videos.”
Similar safety precautions are in place for other social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, but that doesn’t seem to curb the amount of underage users in these spaces. According to information released by Statista, 32.5% of TikTok users are between the ages of 10 and 19. According to The New York Times, a third of TikTok users might be under the age of 14. This is an interesting observation, considering that TikTok’s own safety resources note that 13 is the youngest age that can create a TikTok account, and that these are the ages that are going to be put on involuntary private profiles with limited access to the rest of TikTok until they turn 16.
What does this mean for brands and advertisers? The creator economy is going to change.
Since a large portion of TikTok’s demographic is within the 13-15 age bracket, there is going to be a shift in the way that brands and advertisers market their products as well as the ways that influencers engage with their audiences. We can also expect engagement rates and follower counts to decrease, since a majority of the privatized profiles also make up the fanbases of some of the most popular creators on the platform.
Brands should make more authentic attempts to connect with their audiences, by focusing on age-appropriate content and materials. This also extends to the influencers they partner with — because an influencer relationship is an extension of both the brand and the creator, it’s important to be conscious of the message that is expressed by both parties.
These are also the age demographics that determine the major trends across social media. Without the tastemakers of the platform expressing their views and opinions on public profiles, there will be a shift in which age group creates virality across multiple niches. Brands and advertisers should consider alternative methods of gathering information from age demographics (such as parental-approved surveys) that can still access the trendsetting generation in an appropriate manner.
No matter how you look at it, younger generations are key to understanding how consumers are engaging with brands, products and services. However, safety and privacy concerns are extremely important to protect creators that are underage, and all people — brands, advertisers, social media platforms — should accommodate for that.
With TikTok’s new regulations, we will have to find new ways to learn from Gen Z without subjecting them to inappropriate content. The answer lies in authentic relationships based on shared interests from age-appropriate influencers.