April 3, 2023

If we ban TikTok, what’s next?

Emma Falci

Strategy Intern

As you may have heard, US lawmakers are working on a bipartisan Senate bill that would ban TikTok within the US, and many other countries like Great Britain are considering following suit. So what’s happening behind the scenes, and what can we anticipate to come from these discussions? 

Why TikTok is considered a threat:

At face value, an app filled with teenagers lip-syncing and dancing seems pretty harmless – but from a national security perspective, many government officials fear that the company behind it could pose a serious threat.

The most notable concern about this platform is data security, as TikTok is owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance. Many governments have been led to believe that American citizens’ data is at risk on the platform – and if information were to fall into the hands of the Chinese government, it could threaten national security. In China, companies are required to comply with strict laws that require them to share data with the Chinese government, which could then compromise the data of the 100 million plus Americans who use the app. 

Additionally, there’s a widespread concern that the Chinese government could also be using the platform to spread misinformation that could affect elections and political discourse; because of the complexity and mystery surrounding the app’s algorithm, the app could be easily manipulated to influence what’s being talked about without users being aware of it. 

It’s not just the US: 

Plenty of countries have already banned TikTok, and many others have indicated an intent to ban the platform in the near future. India has had a full ban on the app since 2020, and Canada, Taiwan, and the EU have joined the US in banning TikTok on any government devices. Additionally, around 30 individual states have enacted some sort of restrictions on the platform. 

In recent news…

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s nearly six-hour congressional hearing has been at the forefront of the news as he was grilled with questions by members of Congress. After the hearing, many lawmakers doubled down on their commitment to the ban while TikTok creators criticized Congress members' lack of understanding of the app – and modern technology as a whole. Despite protests by users and creators who have a lot to lose socially and finacially from the ban, many key members of Congress are determined to cut ties with TikTok in a uniquely bipartisan effort, saying that “Project Texas” simply isn’t enough to convince them to trust the platform. The White House has also indicated that they support the bill to ban TikTok in the US, known as the RESTRICT Act. 

What’s next: 

The word “ban” is being thrown around frequently these days, but it seems there are a few other options on the table for TikTok to make peace with foreign governments. Firstly, many legal experts wonder whether the US would be able to ban it in the first place. The Trump administration tried to ban the platform and faced pushback because it was considered a free speech violation from the Berman Amendment, which says that media cannot be prohibited from flowing freely between the US and hostile countries. Many legal scholars say that if attempted again, a ban would likely still conflict with this amendment and could again face constitutional challenges.

Alternatively, TikTok has a few avenues to avoid a full ban in the US. First, ByteDance could sell off TikTok to a US-owned entity – appeasing the US. However, for this to happen, the Chinese government would have to give approval to be sold, and they would have the full power and authority to say no. 

TikTok could also invest more in safeguarding Americans’ data – they’ve already spent a whopping $1.5 billion on what they call “Project Texas” to create a firewall to protect American info. But if the White House is still unsure, they could potentially pay more out of pocket to appease American lawmakers. 

What this means for brands: 

  • At this point, we recommend brands continue to show up on TikTok. Other brands are maintaining their TikTok presence and taking a wait and see approach to determine if they need to pivot a strategy based on if/when the platform is actually banned. 
  • While we don’t think there’s an imminent risk to being on TikTok, it’s important to continue to evaluate the ongoing situation from a brand safety perspective. 
  • Lean into US-based platforms. If TikTok gets banned, video content likely won't lose relevance, so building a strong presence on Instagram Reels could pay off big time.
  • If you have existing influencer/content creator contracts, make sure there is a contingency plan for content to be posted on alternative platforms should TikTok be officially banned at some point. 

Got questions? We have a full team ready to take them. Shoot our Media team a note for a quick and thoughtful reply.













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