Experts question legitimacy of TikTok imposing one-hour screen time limit for under-18 users

TikTok is clamping down on teenagers' screen time by imposing a default one-hour daily limit for users under 18 years old.

However, experts are questioning the legitimacy of the new wellbeing controls amid scrutiny from some countries looking to tighten social media regulations, or ban the app entirely.

TikTok is a highly addictive, all-consuming viral platform some would say teenagers are overdosing on, and in New Zealand it's estimated there are 1.4 million users endlessly scrolling every week.

Newshub asked one man if he was willing to pull up his phone's screen time.

"No, because then I'd get caught in my lie," he said.

But the social media juggernaut is now imposing its own restrictions to make it harder for young consumers to satisfy their cravings.

In the coming months, accounts for users aged between 13 and 18 will default to a one-hour screen-time limit. Once their time is up, they'll be asked to enter a passcode to extend their time on the app - or they can simply disable the restriction.

"The platform has also implemented workarounds to the time limited and they're quite motivated to maintain high levels of engagement, so I'm very sceptical it's going to do any actual good," Otago University research fellow Helena McAnally said.

She believes it's an attempt by the industry to be seen to be doing more for its users' wellbeing.

TikTok's head of trust and safety said the new feature was implemented as they believe digital experiences should play a positive role in how people express themselves, discover ideas, and connect.

The changes come as some countries consider tightening regulations around social media, and US lawmakers look to ban the Chinese-owned platform altogether as a matter of national security.

"Before you get governments to regulate, companies will introduce soft measures to give the appearance of change, and whether you're working in issues such as the environment or labour rights or in this case social media, they will sometimes do things in advance to prevent legislation coming down the track," Waikato University law professor Alexander Gillespie said.

So whether it's genuine concern from TikTok or just lip service, there's an even bigger concern as to whether teenagers will just use the workaround to stay online.