The world just doesn’t know what to do with TikTok. For what appears to be the umpteenth time, news outlets are covering the famous app as U.S. lawmakers work to ban it in the United States. Over 1 billion people tune in to the app monthly, and for reference that closely follows the 1.4 billion people on Instagram, 2.2 billion on YouTube, and 2.9 billion users on Facebook. In the United States alone, TikTok has over 138 million active users who spend an average of 95 minutes on the app per day. It is safe to say that this app has a very particular sway on its users, more so than any other social media platform in history.
According to the Washington Post, in 2021 the trending viral videos of people sharing their favorite books, many of them with the hashtag #BookTok, helped make 2021 one of the publishing industry’s best sales years ever. This trend doesn’t just stop at the publishing industry. Take the Stanley Big Grip Travel Quencher that was on everyone’s Christmas list this past year, it is safe to say that their sales of this viral water bottle were largely influenced by TikTok. The hashtag #stanleytumbler has over 133 million views, and the brand’s TikTok page has over 30 thousand followers. If you can believe it, the app’s influence doesn’t stop there.
In July of 2022, Google senior vice president Prabhakar Raghavan shared internal data showing that an average of 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds in the United States go to TikTok and Instagram over Google for their search needs. This data makes many businesses wonder what the future holds in regard to consumer behavior. TikTok has already demonstrated its influence with viral videos, but what happens when users start funneling from Google over to TikTok for their searching needs? We have seen other apps such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube attempt to produce the TikTok model with Reels and YouTube Shorts, but nothing seems to beat the incredibly smart algorithm that TikTok holds.
So with all of these incredible benefits on our economy, why would lawmakers be trying to ban TikTok in the United States? TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, who is located in China, have been accused many times of accessing nonpublic data about US TikTok users which is exactly why former president Donald Trump tried to ban the app during his presidency. In a 2021 Senate hearing, a TikTok executive shared that there was a US based security team that decides who gets access to the data, and that US user data was not being handled in China. According to the BuzzFeed News, that is not the whole truth. There were 14 statements made by 9 different TikTok employees sharing that there were Beijing-based engineers that “have access to everything”.
So what does this mean for the app’s future in the US? Currently, both Democrats and Republicans stand mostly unified in their attempts to weaken the immensely popular (and powerful) social media platform. President Joe Biden approved a limited TikTok ban when he signed the over 4,000 page spending bill into law in December. The ban disallows the use of TikTok by the federal government’s employees, which stretch to almost 4 million people, on devices owned by its agencies. The bans don’t stop there, many state government’s banned the app to be used by its employee’s, but also to students and workers who are on the wifi of certain college campuses. University of Oklahoma, University of Texas, Alabama and Auburn are some of the campuses who have set forth this new campus rule.
ByteDance has created a new U.S. Based team as of this past December, to help address these trust and safety issues stating that the purpose was to “build further trust and confidence in the protection of US user data and compliance”. It has been said that President Biden is more inclined to keep the app in the market, but there is no final decision that has yet been made. This safety issue that is being discussed not only affects everyday Americans and the content creators on the app, but it may also have a lasting effect on businesses and the future of social media marketing.