At the beginning of December, TikTok announced it was stepping in to curtail potential misuse of virtual gifting during livestreams, where users can directly pay the content creators they enjoy through virtual gifts.
In a post on December 3, the company’s head of safety for TikTok U.S., Eric Han, said the platform will “continue to have a 16+ age limit for a user to host a live stream, our updated policy will only allow those aged 18 and over to purchase, send, or receive virtual gifts.”
Prior, anyone between 13 and 16 years old could send, and anyone over 16 could receive.
“We are making these changes to foster a safe environment where users of all ages can enjoy a live stream without encountering misuse, such as any pressure to send virtual gifts,” Han wrote.
The company has also been rolling out this message to its influencers:
However, a certain set of influencers are annoyed that the company has taken away the gifting feature.
Parker Pannell, a 16-year-old TikTok influencer with more than 1 million followers, has been on the platform for a little over a year. He said only in the past couple of months he started making money from the platform, albeit indirectly.
“What kind of sucks about TikTok is that you can’t directly monetize with through it, because they’re not sending out like a weekly paycheck,” Pannell said. “So the ways people were monetizing were through TikTok livestreams, where you can send in gifts.”
Those reported gifts, or coins, are a smorgasbord of teen iconography with attached monetary value: Pandas and Italian hands (five cents each), rainbow pukes (50 cents), love bangs (25 cents), concerts (ranging from $5 to $10) and an illustrated token called drama queen (about $50).
For creators with significant followings, the gifts—and the numbers—add up.
“I know people who have made over $10,000 on a live stream,” Pannell said, who added that he’ll make several hundred dollars per stream. “And because these fans go hard like [the content creators are] they want to be supporting their favorite creators.”
But now this valued revenue stream has gone away. TikTok’s new policy is aimed at prohibiting teens from sending in money without parents’ permission in part because the company feels like the influencers are exploiting younger viewers. Some were reportedly given false promises for the exchange.
Pannell said that this kind of decision will affect the app and creators in specific ways.
“Obviously people are losing money off of this,” he said. “And I’m seeing a lot of people out here who are either taking a break from TikTok saying, ‘Hey, TikTok, until you get this fixed I’m not gonna be making videos,’ which obviously is not going to last for very long because I know TikTok is not going to change this.”
But Pannell also concedes there are others “exploiting your viewers more than anything and really pressuring them in the wrong ways.”
What that looks like: Influencers are telling viewers where people can send money off the platform, on other sites like Venmo and CashApp. And in return for money, the influencer will give a “shout out.”
“I feel like that’s really like taking advantage of your younger viewers,” Pannell said. “They’re saying, ‘Hey, if you send me in a penny, I’ll make a whole video about you.’ I don’t think it’s the right thing to do for you and your viewers cause the kids don’t know any better.”
While Pannell is just one influencer annoyed he’s losing an easy revenue stream, he understands and appreciates TikTok’s policy as it promotes safety and community, even if the changes come with ripple effects.
“But I definitely think it’s just gonna keep on changing the way the content creators would be looking at the platform,” he said.