If there’s one thing that deserves a heck of a lot of credit for keeping us all sane through quarantine, it’s TikTok. The video platform has exploded in the last year, broadcasting content from creatives all across the world. There are so many creatives from every corner of the globe on TikTok that it can be very easy to forget that the app is owned by a Chinese company – unless you’re Trump. The Trump administration has such issues with China that it’s been threatening to ban the app in the United States altogether – a step that India has already taken.
What the heck is going on?
Following a number of border clashes between China and India – and the fact that China is allegedly slowly encroaching on India – the Indian government banned nearly 60 Chinese-owned apps. The move was clearly admired by the US government, who has repeatedly threatened to do the same.
Their position is that the app poses a security threat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the US is taking Chinese apps very seriously, and when asked if Americans should download TikTok, Pompeo said: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Spokespeople from the app itself, which has already reached over 2 billion downloads earlier in the year, deny this. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance claims that user data is stored exclusively in Singapore and the US, and not sent to China at all. According to one TikTok spokesperson,”We are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform”. However, some sceptics cite a 2017 law in China, which requires companies to comply with all government requests for intelligence gathering.
But surely this is more of a reason to stop government officials and soldiers from using the app, rather than the millions of dancing teenagers who use it. Or is Trump expecting Gen Z to expose top secret information while throwing it back to “Savage”?
Regardless of whether or not the app actually poses a threat, Trump is determined to shut it down, although it’s unclear how he would actually enforce a ban. If he can pull it off, Vox writer Shirin Ghaffary writes that it would be “a game changer for the social media industry”. It would also certainly disrupt the app’s meteoric rise in the US – it has some 80 million users there alone – and lessen the competition for other platforms like Facebook and Google.
Wired writer Nicholas Thompson writes: “Instagram and Whatsapp were gobbled by Facebook, and Snapchat was hobbled. But TikTok has survived Facebook’s destroy mode. The US company didn’t recognize its growth and misunderstood its genius. By the time Facebook first tried desperately to copy and clone it, it was too late. But now, with Trump’s aggressive stance, Facebook has been given a gift from above. Its new TikTok twin, Instagram’s Reels, launches soon. Without TikTok, the road to its success would be more open and clear.
On this note, Ghaffary writes that “since TikTok is one of the only recent social media startups to compete with tech giants like Facebook, weakening TikTok could further reinforce what many argue is the monopolistic nature of the US tech economy” – which would have potentially negative consequences beyond those on it’s parent company. It’s no surprise then, that this has given birth to a whole bunch of conspiratorial talk about The US president’s dealings with Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
In addition, TikTok has become a vibrant and diverse pool of American speech, and banning the app may silence those voices too. This leads Thompson to say about Trump’s plans that “it’s a rare feat to upturn two such fundamental democratic values—free speech and free markets—at the same time”.
In the meantime…
We’ll have to wait to see how this latest Trumpian drama plays out. What we can be certain of is that Trump’s youngest son, Barron, is going to get a hell of a lot of flack from his peers if his daddy really does take away their favourite new pastime. In the meantime, here are some hilarious TikToks – devoid of any US state secrets.