TikTok, the popular social media app owned by Chinese company Bytedance, is facing a possible ban in the United States due to concerns over national security. TikTok is a video-sharing app that allows users to create and share short-form videos on any topic. The app has amassed over 2.6 billion downloads and has 1 billion active users worldwide, including an estimated 5 million active businesses. However, with its size and prowess, the app has faced copious amounts of scrutiny worldwide. The app has already faced bans around the globe, including in Canada, India, and the United Kingdom.
However, banning the app is a familiar idea in the United States. Since its launch in 2016, the government has made several moves to restrict or ban TikTok and other social media sites. In 2020, former President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order that would have effectively forbidden TikTok in the United States, citing concerns over national security. The executive order called for ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, to divest its ownership of the app's U.S. operations. However, a federal judge temporarily blocked the ban, and the Biden administration later dropped efforts to enforce it. Furthermore, over two dozen U.S. states, including Texas and Florida, have banned TikTok on government-issued devices and college Wi-Fi networks. The government additionally issued a complete ban on military-owned devices and networks.
The RESTRICT Act
Bill 686, known as the RESTRICT Act (Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology), would allow the federal government to regulate and even ban foreign-produced technology, including TikTok. The RESTRICT Act would effectively give the Secretary of Commerce broad power to control technology and applications produced by six countries with adversarial relationships with the U.S., including China and Russia. The White House endorsed this bill stating it is “a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans.”
TikTok is loved and used by over half of the U.S. population, and many users are adamantly against banning the platform. The app is more than just a way of spreading love, joy, and awareness; it is the lifeblood of over five million businesses and 106 thousand paid influencers. The app enhances brand identity and awareness, making it an excellent platform for social media influencers to promote brands through user-generated content. TikTok provides a unique opportunity to reach a target market quickly and efficiently, making it an essential tool for businesses and creators to spread news, education, and entertainment. The app has a benefit for smaller businesses specifically as advertising is less expensive than other apps; for instance, Ad impressions cost 50% less in TikTok than Instagram, 33% less than Twitter, and 62% less than Snapchat. Lower-priced ad impressions give large and small businesses a more considerable bang for their buck.
One of the most prominent arguments about why we shouldn’t ban TikTok goes back to the law and the First Amendment. The Constitution's First Amendment protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition grievances. By banning the app, this side argues that the government will limit people's freedom of speech.
TikTok has gained extra traction regarding the app's ability to spread creativity, education, and activism. In the music industry, artists have found a place to showcase their talents and reach a vast audience. Spreading music over the app has drawn up to 75% of TikTok users to use the app to discover new artists’ music, or “sounds,” driving billions of views and the welfare of the artists. Another pro of the app is that it provides access to educational materials. Thousands of teaching videos bring help and new ideas to audiences, young and old. It has even got a new generation to the joy of reading, with #booktok amassing 29.1 billion views as of January 2023. The app is also valuable for promoting communication through news and activism. TikTok has brought news of every sort to the forefront of the media by spreading information. News videos have brought 77% of users to say TikTok has helped them learn about social justice and politics. The informative accounts come in the form of news accounts like @underthedesknews, activist accounts like @deja_foxx, and even politicians like North Carolina Congressman @jeffjacksonnc.
The prime defense of those who would like to ban TikTok is that the app is a potential security threat to personal data and national security. TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is based in China, and many fear that it could give unlimited access of Americans' sensitive data to China's Communist Party, jeopardizing national security. TikTok has already faced scrutiny for tracking browsing history and location data. This tracking raises concerns about user privacy continuing to be exploited.
Moreover, accusations of driving misinformation efforts, or "Fake News," were made against the app, which can have dangerous consequences. In the age of Photoshop and AI, it has become far easier to create misleading news content or spread non-factual news. Fake news in mass can create unrest and harm to persons and groups that news seeks to exploit.
Another issue is the exposure of young children and teens to sensitive content, bullying, and other psychological effects. As 60% of the app users as Gen Z -Between the ages of 16 and 24- there is increasing concern about the app's effects on the developing mind when exposed to the harmful and discriminatory content some users have posted.
What the Decision Will Mean For the U.S., Social Media, and the Digital Marketing Industry
A ban on TikTok in the US would significantly affect the US social media landscape and the digital marketing industry. TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, and its user base in the US has been rapidly growing. For social media, a ban on TikTok would mean that millions of users in the US would have to find alternative platforms to share their content and connect with their followers. The ban could result in a shift towards other popular media, such as Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube, which may attract or deter new users. From a marketing perspective, TikTok has become a popular platform for brands to connect with younger audiences and drive engagement through sponsored content, influencer marketing, and user-generated content campaigns. A ban on TikTok would force marketers to rethink their social media strategies and shift their focus to other platforms. In the long term, the ban could increase competition among social media platforms and encourage marketers to explore new and innovative ways to engage with audiences.
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