The TikTok Ban, Explained for Marketers

May 25, 2023 | Social Media

Why is the U.S. government is so concerned about a social media app? We explain why a TikTok ban is being considered and what it means for digital marketers.

TikTok ban Hero

UPDATE 4/26/24: A bill forcing the sale of TikTok or requiring its ban in the U.S. was signed by President Biden this week, meaning ByteDance, TikTok's parent, now has about nine months to find a buyer. Industry watchers have advised that the process could stretch out months or years due to legal action, so we believe our recommendations at end remain applicable to digital marketers. Of course, you can always reach out to our team directly if you want to discuss the topic more and how it might impact your marketing strategy in the future.

There’s been a lot of posturing and talk about a possible ban of TikTok by the U.S. government. In mid-May of 2023, Montana even made the move to officially ban the platform.

That's because TikTok has become a preferred channel in many digital marketing strategies for its ability to understand and connect with target audiences. Banning this platform will not only disrupt the followings built by many brands (including those served here at Informatics), but also relationships with influencers who promote products and services on the platform.

For digital-first brands that have invested thousands or tens of thousands of dollars into the platform, that's a hard pill to swallow. But the truth is, you need to be prepared for whatever action the federal or state government decides to take.

How popular is TikTok anyway?

People on Tiktok

To understand the current debate, it helps to take a step back and understand the broader impact TikTok has already had on our digital culture.

Like Facebook in the early 2000s, TikTok has grown into a social media giant that drives what we're talking, reading, and hearing about. Even if you’re not one of its 150 million American users, you probably have friends or family who send links to TikTok videos they find funny or helpful.

Its short-form videos and tailored algorithms are so popular that other well-known social media apps are outright copying its style (or trying to). For example, Instagram has created and prioritized Reels. YouTube has introduced Shorts. These platforms might have unique names for their scroll-oriented videos, but they’re not fooling anyone.  

Why is a TikTok ban being considered?

TikTok debate

Two consecutive presidential administrations (Trump and Biden) have floated a federal ban on the app, with the Biden administration ordering the app off all government-owned devices earlier this spring. CNN notes that more than half of states now ban the app on government devices.

The opposition isn't related to a fear of technology, but rather its owner: ByteDance.  

ByteDance is based in China, which is considered a major economic competitor to the United States. Those in favor of banning the platform—including governments in Europe and Canada—fear that ByteDance could allow sensitive user information to fall into the hands of the Chinese government, which heavily controls "private" companies in the country. They also worry that the platform's smart algorithm could help fuel disinformation campaigns in the future.

The debate surrounding access to TikTok can essentially be broken into two major arguments:

The moderation argument 

In general, social media platforms’ ability to control what users see, or how their algorithm prioritizes content, has always been debated. Some believe in heavy moderation and removal of hate-speech, while others think too much moderation infringes on our First Amendment rights.

This debate was intensifying at the same time TikTok took center stage. Suddenly, there was a platform that could not legally be regulated by U.S. lawmakers. This took issues related to misinformation, bots, and hate speech on the platform completely out of lawmakers’ hands. And if laws cannot apply to one of the most used social media platforms out there, what good are they? That argument has fueled the camp looking to ban TikTok from American phones.

The national security argument 

Everyone on social media has largely accepted they’re sharing their online data with advertisers in order to develop highly-targeted campaigns. But because a Chinese company now has access to our online data, there is concern that it could be used to weaken or compromise our nation, whether via U.S. operations or those of vital industries.

This view of the app as a national security threat is why U.S. government workers are barred from downloading the app. 

ByteDance has made efforts to convince government officials it’s trustworthy and independent, but those in favor of banning the app remain unconvinced. Even if transparency is promised, ByteDance will always ultimately answer to the Chinese government.  

Should marketers prepare for a TikTok ban?

Social media videos

Don't go deleting the app or cutting ties with influencers just yet. While we can't say a ban will or won't happen in your state or nationally (update: assuming a sale does not happen), efforts are now real enough to warrant a plan B.

Just like an investor diversifies their portfolios, digital marketers should work to diversify their social media presence. That way, your brand won't take a huge hit if a ban does go through. Here’s how: 

  • Maintain an active presence on all major platforms that make sense for your brand  
  • Make an effort to stay updated on all the major social platforms’ features and best practices 
  • Repurpose TikTok videos as YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels 
  • Work with multi-platform influencers or influencers from different channels 

If your organization needs help cutting through the noise around social media, or you have additional questions about TikTok, the team at Informatics would be happy to help. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping an eye on the potential TikTok ban and keep you informed of any major updates. 

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