The Controversy Behind TikTok

Social media platform TikTok has taken the world by storm since its worldwide release in 2018, quickly gaining explosive popularity over the past year. The app has attracted massive amounts of users thanks to its trendsetting character, with videos where social media influencers appear lip-syncing and dancing to popular songs. The application has been downloaded over 2 billion times on the App Store and Google Play, having 800 million active users. According to Hootsuite, teenagers and young adults (ranging from ages 13-24) compose its largest demographic, totaling to “69% of the app’s user base”. It has now become the sixth-largest social network.

But with such intriguing numbers, also comes infamy.

TikTok, also known as Douyin (抖音), was developed by ByteDance Ltd., a Beijing-based technology company founded by Zhang Yiming in 2012. Originally, TikTok was released on the Chinese market in 2016 but became available internationally in August of 2018 after acquiring and merging with Musical.ly (a popular social media service). The app is now used to create 60 seconds long lip-sync, dance, or comedy videos—reminiscent of the long-gone social media network Vine. So what went wrong?

Things quickly took a political turn.

In June of this year, TikTok and several other Chinese apps were banned by the Indian government due to ongoing political tensions and military conflicts over disputed territory at the China-India borders.

Subsequently, on August 3rd, US President Donald Trump addressed the company publicly, threatening to ban TikTok in the United States if Microsoft’s negotiations didn’t go through. Three days later, two executive orders were signed to ban US transactions with ByteDance.

Political tensions between China and the US have been escalating since the past couple of years, with rising concerns about espionage and intelligence activity. In January 2019, the American Peterson Institute for International Economics started an investigation about TikTok, referring to the situation as a “Huawei-sized problem,” and a threat to national security considering its increasing popularity in the West. The investigation highlighted that ByteDance is legally unable to refuse to provide data to the Chinese government, as stated by the China Internet Security Law. However, the company claims that TikTok is not available in China and actively stores its data separately, although they still have the right to share any information with governmental authorities. Yet, according to The New York Times, the CIA has determined that despite the possibility of the Chinese government collecting user’s data, there is no actual evidence of it doing so.

Polarizing opinions are circulating on the internet. Some conspire the application is being used as an espionage tool to extract private information from users, while others disagree. Many younger users oppose the TikTok ban in the United States, claiming that the social media platform provides an opportunity to educate others about the events happening in today’s society, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement or climate change. There has been a dramatic surge of political activism and campaigning in newer generations, who utilize social media for exposure.

Although the future of TikTok is uncertain, other competitors are rising in the online market, with apps like Byte, Dubsmash, and Instagram Reels. Some platforms are recruiting TikTok influencers and different personalities to promote their network, and some users are moving to other smaller platforms. Could this mark the end of a multi-billion dollar company? Chances are, not really. But this can be the chance to discover other hidden gems among the technological giants.

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