May 2, 2024

TikTok on the clock

Curiosity’s Media & Strategy teams

TikTok has been officially banned in the U.S., but we’re not feeling the urgency to overreact to this news and we don’t think you should either.

The highlights
  • Congress passed a bill, and was signed by President Biden, that could officially ban TikTok in the U.S. if not sold in the next year. 
  • The bill puts into effect a law that gives ByteDance 9 months to sell TikTok, with a potential 90-day grace period if the President believes an extension is in order to allow the sale to happen.
  • TikTok unsurprisingly responded by saying they would fight this legally, with CEO Shou Zi Chew posting a response to the news: “Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere. We are confident and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts.”
  • 9 months plus 90 days and a contentious legal battle means TikTok won’t just be fading into the sunset anytime soon.
  • The people who use the app the most aren’t panicking, but they are kinda pissed. Creators are concerned about the impact this could have on small businesses and young people are feeling unheard.
So, what the heck happened?
  • Lawmakers and politicians have been toying around with this ban for over a year, and finally got their wish when Biden signed into law the bipartisan-led 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act.
  • Concerns over ByteDance handing over sensitive user data, like location information, into the hands of the Chinese government. 
  • The case is being made that certain laws have allowed the Chinese government to secretly demand data from Chinese companies and citizens for intelligence-gathering operations.
  • Politicians are also worried China could use TikTok’s content recommendations to fuel misinformation, a concern that has escalated in the U.S. during the Israel-Hamas war and the presidential election. 
  • Critics say that TikTok has fueled the spread of antisemitism. 
What could happen next?

The law is not expected to cause any immediate disruption to TikTok, as a future lawsuit and various hurdles to selling the app will most likely cause months of delay.  Both ByteDance and the Chinese government are expected to oppose this bill – which they have full authority to do – likely arguing that this bill hinders their users’ freedom of speech and that the U.S. is not upholding the First Amendment. TikTok is known to be a space for creators to speak their minds, support movements, and voice any opinion they care to share.  If sold,  an American owner could restrict TikTok’s content policy, changing the landscape of the opinion-filled platform. 

If nothing is happening anytime soon, why does it matter?

TikTok has had an undeniable impact on our culture. It’s used by 170 million Americans5 who were drawn to the app’s short-form video for laughs and inspiration. It’s become a destination for entertainment, to search for new knowledge, and get the news. Despite other platform’s tactics (cough Instagram) to replicate TikTok’s winning functionality, it remains its own unique entity with many questioning how anything could possibly replace it.  

This is especially true for creators and small business owners who rely on the platform for quality engagement, specific reach goals, and, of course, for income. During the next year of uncertainty, it’s a good bet for these users to diversify their platforms and income streams just in case.  LTK Co-Founder and President Amber Venz Box is reminding users they are resilient to changes like these. “As we’ve seen players in the space come and go, there is one consistent theme: creators are resilient,” she said. “History shows us that the creator opportunity continues to grow either way, and creators have a highly transferable skill set and will adapt as social platforms evolve.”

Young people are also understandably annoyed. For them, TikTok is a community for users to engage with like-minded individuals who share their interests and find validation for all their concerns. It’s also a place to learn, with one-third of young people saying TikTok is where they get their news1.  

Banning TikTok could make young people feel undervalued or not valued at all – and that’s causing some groups to worry that this core demographic will opt out of the upcoming presidential election.7

Our POV on what you should do

This ban is yet another test of your social team’s ability to be early adopters and pivot at a moment's notice. So keep feeding content into platforms that currently exist, like TikTok.  

  • Stay the course. Until TikTokers in-app behavior starts to noticeably change, or they start shifting their attention towards other platforms, there is no need to disrupt your social approach. In fact, we say lean in more to TikTok because the platform will likely want to make it easier to get reach and encourage people to join and make content.
  • Double down on short-form. Regardless of the outcome with TikTok, all brands must add Reels and Shorts to their portfolio, because short-form video isn't going anywhere.
  • Experiment within your social portfolio. Now is the time to take some risks, like adding long-form video, live, carousel, etc., to test and learn and start planning for the future.
  • Pay attention to rumor mills. There might be new platforms emerging, or old ones (Vine, are you there? It’s us Curiosity) being revived and entering the landscape. Being an early adopter of those emerging platforms is a good starting point.
  • Stay in tune with your creators. Double-check your existing creator and influencer contracts and make sure you have the rights to spread the content around platforms. Also, keep an eye on their other content and POV, especially indications of how (and where) they plan to engage with their followers as news develops. 

Stay in touch with us. Nothing is going to happen overnight, but in the ever-changing world of social media, something could pop up. We’re going to continue to monitor the situation closely and will be your go-to for all things TikTok.

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