What TikTok’s shifting US presence means for social media

2023/01/30 Innoverview Read

TikTok has proudly touted its status as social media’s shining star in the last handful of years, and it shows no signs of slowing in 2023 — even as the ByteDance platform’s U.S. presence continues to find itself the center of tense government scrutiny. 

Somewhat of a slow burn over the last few years, criticism of TikTok has overwhelmingly regarded the app’s Chinese ownership and fears that U.S. data is being placed in the wrong hands. Subsequently, 31 states have since issued various bans barring the use of TikTok on government-issued devices and networks, with others, including New York, Vermont, California and Massachusetts, proposing to do the same. Broadly, some have also begun proposing nationwide bans, with one government representative going so far as to describe the platform as “digital fentanyl.”

In effort to oblige with statewide policies, a growing handful of public universities have begun blocking TikTok use on campus WiFi, including University of Oklahoma, Auburn University, Arkansas State University and Texas A&M University — one of the nation’s largest campuses — among others. However, even as the app finds itself in the middle of uproar, consumers won’t be slowing their consumption anytime soon, according to Kaela Green, vice president of paid social for Basis Technologies.

“The ban that’s happening, if it’s on devices and networks, ultimately, users still have their own personal networks, they have their own carrier networks that they’re using on their phones and they’re not going to shy away from the platform,” Green said.

Similarly, Green doesn’t see the bans having any impact on the desire by advertisers paying to market their products on the platform, nor should it, at this point, she said. While its data privacy woes aren’t to be taken lightly, TikTok has become an asset to those looking to connect with younger consumers. It recently rose to be the second most popular app for those under age 35 and is often synonymous with the creator economy, though that sector of its business has also gotten some kickback recently. It is also building out its social commerce capabilities, while others show signs of scaling down.

On the other hand, restricting organic content, particularly from those universities and government entities affected, could prove harmful, Green said. Now viewed as a powerful search engine against Google, TikTok has become an educational resource for many of its users. In one instance, a North Carolina congressman has been using the platform to share context on how officials are elected, behind-the-scenes content and to promote transparency, lending to the argument that there’s value in such entities maintaining a presence on the platform.

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