By June 2020, Tiktok had captured the hearts, minds, and most of all, the attention, of young people the world over. From the music clips and dances to the life hacks, and everything in between, the short-video platform was the “it” thing in an ever-growing world of social media.
As TikTok rose to popularity among all demographics, it also started receiving more pointed inquiries from lawmakers. Stories began emerging that noted the China-based app was collecting data on its users, and that this information could potentially compromise national security. That’s all then-President Trump needed to hear to set in motion a plan to ban the platform from being hosted on U.S.-based app stores – most notably Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store.
Needless to say, this ban was never implemented. Here are three reasons why:
1. A Federal Judge Ruled In TikTok’s Favor
Precedent is the foremost authority when it comes to court decisions. In this particular case, there were few comparable historical instances of a president and his administration trying to restrict access to a foreign social media app. Thus, Judge Carl Nichols had to rely on good ol’ fashioned constitutional interpretation to provide a ruling on the matter.
Nichols’ opinion – which was issued under seal (meaning his exact reasoning for the order is not public) – granted TikTok’s request for a temporary injunction against the Trump administration’s push for removal. TikTok had requested the injunction on the grounds that removal from app platforms constituted a violation of the company’s due process rights.
John Hall, an attorney representing the social media company stated that a ban would have been “an extraordinary action at the very time when the need for free, open, and accessible communication in America is at its zenith.” In response, government lawyers expressed that TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese firm presented “immediate danger” to national security. As with most cases of this nature, reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
Because of the lack of legal precedent, the Judge’s decision was debated amongst legal minds, but no consensus has been reached to this point. Due to the fact that America prides itself on being the land of ‘free speech’ and lack of government censorship, it can be argued that in a case where a threat was not clear and obvious, it’s best to wait until more concrete information is presented showing that the threat is real.
2. Research Showed the Threat Was Overstated
It’s hard to deny the fact that China has a strong interest in weakening the American system. Fear over China’s ability to sow dissent and division among the U.S. population via TikTok might be valid, but it seems like we’ve already been doing it for years using homegrown apps like Twitter and Facebook. It’s worth noting that foreign-based disinformation is rampant on these platforms. Although the companies themselves are working to remove it, little is being done at the government level.
Back to TikTok. It was determined by Citizen Lab – a cybersecurity group at the University of Toronto – that TikTok’s code did not pose a national security threat to the U.S. as originally feared. Citizen Lab conducted its research after government officials in numerous countries expressed concerns about potential “spying” by the Chinese government.
The revelation that TikTok didn’t represent a threat to the U.S. is only part of the story. Interestingly, Citizen Lab’s research revealed that there were three different common base codes. One for the global edition, another for its Southeast Asian version, and yet another for the version of the platform that’s available in China.
Whereas the U.S. version wasn’t found to be necessarily malicious, the same cannot be said for its eastern counterparts. The extent of censorship, data mining, and other nefarious digital practices isn’t clear, but the report concluded that TikTok’s platform is much more of a threat to Asian citizens than those using the app in other parts of the world.
3. New Administration, New Rules
Throughout history, when a new President takes their seat in the Oval Office, the previous administration’s plans are pushed to the side, if not off the table altogether. To call the 2020 election contentious is an understatement, and the bad blood that existed between the Biden and Trump camps has yet to fully dissipate. You’d be hard-pressed to find many, if any at all, Trump-era plans that were carried on to completion by President Biden. The TikTok plan is no exception.
Although Joe Biden cancelled the ban, the story doesn’t end there. In fact, the TikTok issue appears to be one of the few areas where the two Presidents share some common ground. Anyone who’s had an eye on the political landscape during the past 24 months should understand that’s not insignificant.
Despite blocking the order, the Biden administration is keeping an eye on the potential safety concerns expressed around TikTok. An executive passed by Biden’s team instructed the U.S. Commerce Department to exercise its due diligence when it comes to apps that have Chinese origins. “The new executive order should lead to a framework for protecting Americans’ data from China, rather than targeting specific companies,” said tech policy expert Paul Triolo.
After much deliberation and ongoing investigation, it appears that TikTok isn’t going anywhere, at least not in the near future. Still, the proposed ban has been a wake-up call to lawmakers and security officials. Those in power have become more sensitive to the destructive capabilities of seemingly-benign apps, and this will likely have some level of impact on the future of the digital landscape.
Tiktok is just the latest in a string of social media channels that have proven to be hugely valuable for advertisers. While TikTok’s ad revenue is trending upwards in a manner reminiscent of Instagram and Facebook during the mid-2010s, it’s important to take advantage at a time when CPMs are still reasonably competitive.
The world of social media advertising is constantly shifting, and staying on top of it all is a challenge for small business owners. If your organization could benefit from a partner with experience in executing TikTok ad campaigns that drive real ROI, get in touch today to schedule a consultation.