Is TikTok Going to Be Banned from the US?

What you need to know about the fate of TikTok.

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Once again, short-form video platform, TikTok, is facing a potential ban in the U.S. The social media app has been an undeniable force on American phones since it launched back in 2016, but quickly became a platform leader during the pandemic.

On March 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would give TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, about six months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app, or face a ban. In 2023, the app was valued at $200 billion and if it left the U.S. market the value would decrease. Divesting would also require approval from the Chinese government and last year, China said they would oppose a forced sale. Companies large enough to buy TikTok like Meta, Google, and Microsoft would probably not do so because of antitrust law that prevents the tech giants from getting even bigger.

Why Is TikTok Facing a Ban?

The key issue is TikTok’s Chinese ownership and parent company, ByteDance, having access to the personal information of over 170 million Americans. U.S. lawmakers are concerned that if Chinese authorities were to get involved, ByteDance might be forced to give up access to that data. The TikTok bill is the latest in a series of moves in Washington addressing U.S. National Security concerns about China, including: connected vehicles, advanced artificial intelligence, and cranes at U.S. ports.

What Does TikTok Say?

In response to safety concerns back in 2021, TikTok voluntarily undertook a safety initiative and has worked with the U.S. government to: protect user data, ensure the platform remains free from outside influence, and implement safeguards on content recommendations and moderation tools.

The safety initiative, TikTok U.S. Data Security (TikTok USDS), is a dedicated subsidiary staffed mainly by U.S.-based employees. The subsidiary oversees and enforces data protection measures across the platform, entrusting the safety of U.S. user data within Oracle Cloud. All source code, including TikTok app code and content moderation, is inspected and reviewed by Oracle and third-party validators to prevent manipulation and backdoors.

TikTok also reminds the public that ByteDance is a privately owned company founded by Chinese entrepreneurs, not owned or controlled by the Chinese government. TikTok may be a global company but complies with local regulations by working with local stakeholders.

How Would a TikTok Ban Work?

If signed into law, the bill would prevent web hosting companies and app stores like Apple and Google from distributing or updating TikTok. A ban would also raise issues about First Amendment Rights and leave Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts as the leading short-form video platforms. To speak to the positive impact the app has made on content creators, Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s CEO, has encouraged creators to share their stories with U.S. lawmakers and said that the social media app, “empowers people to freely express themselves.”

How to Proceed if You’re a Brand Using TikTok?

If you’re a brand that uses TikTok in your organic and paid media strategies, continue to use the platform and don’t get discouraged. Instead, take it as a reminder to diversify your media mix so that your strategy is not reliant on one singular platform for growth. Here are some more tips to consider:

  1. Audit your brand’s performance on TikTok.
  2. Diversify your brand’s presence to platforms that make sense.
  3. Tailor your content.
  4. Engage with your audience transparently.
  5. Stay informed on legislative developments.
  6. Adapt your digital marketing strategies.

If you’re wondering when we’ll hear about the Senate’s decision, it might take some time. The House of Representatives passed the bill in eight days, but the Senate moves much slower. Now is the time for TikTok platform users and advertisers to prepare for possible changes and stay well-informed.

Update 4/24/2024

President Joe Biden signed a bill today that could lead to a nationwide TikTok ban.

Under the law, TikTok's Chinese parent, ByteDance, will need to sell the app within 270 days or it will be removed from Apple and Google app stores in the United States.

Biden’s decision to sign the bill puts the deadline for a sale on January 19, 2025. However, Biden could extend the deadline another 90 days if he determines the company’s made progress toward a sale, giving TikTok potentially up to a year before facing a ban.

TikTok will continue to fight this ban and has promised to take the US Government to court if Biden were to sign the bill, arguing First Amendment rights.

To make things even trickier, TikTok's parent company is subject to Chinese law, and the Chinese government is on record opposing a sale. If a sale is approved, there is a chance that the TikTok algorithm will not be part of the sale, which is the basis for the app’s popularity.

Can such a significant sale be completed in 270 days? Does TikTok have claims that will stand up in court? If sold, will the TikTok algorithm be part of the sale?

Stay tuned for more updates.

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