TikTok has taken the social media world by storm since its reinvention in 2017. It is reported that over 67% of teens/young adults in the US, and a whopping 150 million users nationwide actively use TikTok.

150M Tiktok Users In US

What’s the reason the app has become so popular?

TikTok offers a variety of content for virtually every audience and serves its users an endless algorithm-based feed tailored to their likes and interests. So, whether you’re interested in DIY projects, step-by-step cooking recipes, how-to properly unclog your sink, or just looking for entertainment, TikTok delivers. Its popularity has skyrocketed due to its ability to cater to diverse audiences by delivering raw, seemingly authentic content to its users’ feeds.

TikTok has received a lot of scrutiny since its rise in popularity.

From users to journalists to the US government, the app has been accused of facilitating the spread of misinformation on varying topics such as COVID19, climate change, and the war in Ukraine. Additionally, TikTok has faced numerous lawsuits on accusations ranging from parents claiming the content on children’s feeds promotes eating disorders, to the app being harmfully addictive to sensitive audiences.

Why is the US Government trying to ban TikTok?

The US Government’s main concern with TikTok is perceived national security risks.

This has been a concern for years. The first time the app was faced with a possible ban in the US was by the President Trump Administration in 2020.

TikTok is currently facing a massive challenge. The Wall Street Journal reported in mid-march of this year about how the Biden Administration has demanded TikTok’s Chinese owners sell their stake in the company’s USA-based operations or face a possible ban in the United States.

Federal US Legislators fear the Chinese government is involved in TikTok’s operation. They have expressed concern it could exploit user data to spy on US citizen’s activity while serving up misinformation and promoting narratives favorable to China’s communist leaders.

On March 23rd, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in Congress in effort to relieve national security concerns. During the congressional hearing, Republican and Democratic lawmakers pressed Chew on a host of topics, ranging from TikTok’s content moderation practices, how the company plans to secure American data from Beijing, and its active spying on journalists by monitoring their locations.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew

©World Economic Forum / Benedikt Von Loebell

“Mr. Chew, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security,” Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, said in her opening statement.

Chew’s response to the House Committee insisted TikTok prioritizes the safety of its young users and denied it is a national security risk. He reiterated the company’s plan to protect U.S. user data by storing it on servers maintained and owned by the software giant Oracle.

“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew said. However, it has been assumed by members of Congress as well as the USA business community that all Chinese companies ultimately answer to the Chinese Communist Government.

These concerns about the exploitation of user data stem from TikTok’s previous moderation practices. In 2019, the Guardian reported on how TikTok was instructing its moderators to censor videos that mentioned Tiananmen Square and images unfavorable to the Chinese government. The platform claims it has completely changed its content regulation policies since then.

How is TikTok planning to avoid getting banned?

TikTok has been actively distancing itself from its Chinese origins, saying that 60% of ByteDance is owned by global institutional investors such as Carlyle Group.

TikTok has generated a $1.5 billion dollar plan in an effort to avoid the ban. ByteDance’s “Project Texas” hopes to assure all US user data will be stored on US soil and managed by US employees through an entirely separate data management entity called TikTok U.S. Data Security. The question is: once the plan is thoroughly considered will it be capable enough to reassure Congress of its truth and efficacy if implemented.

What will happen next?

The consensus on this issue is still divided. Some feel TikTok should be banned entirely to avoid any possible national security risks. Others believe a ban on government-issued phones may be necessary, but a nationwide ban may be too extreme. While there are other factors involved, many have concerns a complete ban would burn bridges in other areas of trade relations with China.

“We have Tesla in China, we have Microsoft in China, we have Apple in China. Are they going to start banning us now?”, former government intelligence officer David Kennedy said. “It could escalate very quickly.”

It is assumed that a nationwide ban on TikTok would open the gate for US-based competitors to step into the gap it leaves. Users love their TikTok, and marketers have been advantaging this for their clients.

What will happen? Which platform could fill the TikTok gap if a ban is activated? All we can do at this point is wait, as a TikTok ban in the US is considered by Congress and President Joe Biden.