Watch CBS News

TikTok exec explains social media company's algorithm and efforts to keep children safe

Executive on TikTok & teens' mental health
TikTok's head of policy Michael Beckerman discusses the app and teen mental health 09:11

The video-sharing app TikTok has evolved into a site that covers all parts of life—everything from recipes to clothing to trending challenges.

According to The Pew Research Center, half of American adults under 30 use TikTok. In just five short years since its launch in 2016, the Chinese-born app has exploded in popularity.

According to the company, more than one billion users sign on to scroll monthly, many of them kids. But there are concerns about what young users are seeing as they scroll their "for you page" and the impact it is having on their mental health.

Michael Beckerman, TikTok's head of public policy for North America, told "CBS Mornings" the app has "tools in place" that can help moderate how long users spend on the app and what they see.

"TikTok is about entertainment and bringing joy. You put a premium on authentic content, uplifting content. But like all entertainment, you want to watch with moderation, and we put tools in place, take-a-break video, screen time management, and tools for parents like family pairing to make sure that they can have conversations and do what's right for their family and their teenagers," Beckerman said.

Beckerman added that TikTok focuses on age-appropriate experiences and some features are not available to its younger users.

"Direct messaging, for example, is something that's very popular with teenagers. But also it's an area that bad things can happen with indirect messages. So on TikTok, if you're under 16, there's no direct messaging at all. So we've proactively put a lot of things in place to ensure a safer experience once on the app," Beckerman said. 

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal investigated the TikTok algorithm. It programmed dozens of bots, registered as 13- to 15-year-olds, to see what videos the app's algorithms would show them. According to the newspaper, hundreds of videos about drug use, eating disorders, and porn site recommendations were featured.

Despite thousands of videos labeled as "for adults only," The Wall Street Journal reports its teenage bots still found them.

According to TikTok's terms and conditions, users must be at least 13 years old. Beckerman said there is an additional experience for users under the age of 13 which has additional privacy and safety protections designed specifically for this audience. Despite the desire of some children, users under the age of 13 are not allowed to post videos.

"It's important also for parents to make sure their teenagers are having an age-appropriate experience. We have that. The videos are curated with Common Sense Networks, and we want to have a fun experience for everybody,"  said Beckerman. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.