Jun 2, 2023
You may have heard that the United States really wants to ban TikTok. In fact, Montana already has.
The legal debate surrounding TikTok usage in the U.S. gained momentum after a nearly 6-hour-long question and answer session between Shou Zi Chew (TikTok's CEO) and U.S. lawmakers in March 2023.
The resulting noise makes those of us relying on TikTok for content marketing a little nervous (and rightfully so).
In this post, we will outline exactly what's going on with TikTok and what you should do to prepare in case the platform does get banned.
The primary concern lawmakers cite when discussing TikTok bans is data. What data TikTok collects, where it goes, who can access it, and what it's using it for. We've gotten comfortable digitally consenting to terms and conditions without understanding what we are giving up. Lawmakers fear that having TikTok installed on your device allows the Chinese government to access your personal information, keystrokes, and location. That is why U.S. government employees can't use TikTok on their U.S. government devices.
Ken Paulsen, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, believes, "The problem we have right now is that no one has made clear why TikTok poses a problem for national security. Under the First Amendment, any limitation on speech has to have a genuine justification, and it has to be as narrowly tailored as possible."
As of January 1, 2024, the state of Montana will officially ban TikTok.
There's still more clarification for how feasible the Montana TikTok ban is, as Montana lawmakers were informed this month that app stores currently cannot geofence on a state-by-state basis. This means Apple and Google app stores will have to depart from the single-market approach for the first time ever.
Even Montana users can't download TikTok from their I.P. address, they can still access it using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
TikTok has proposed a $1.5 billion plan called Project Texas, which would route all U.S. user data to Oracle servers. All new U.S. user data is stored inside the United States as of October 2022. TikTok began deleting all historical U.S. data from non-Oracle servers this March and expects to finish by the end of 2023.
While banning TikTok is already happening for official devices used by Congress, the White House, the U.S. armed forces, and over 50% of states, a nationwide ban isn't likely. TikTok has over 150 million United States users. In addition, nearly half of all voting-age U.S. citizens use TikTok, meaning the resulting backlash could have serious political consequences for lawmakers.
The RESTRICT Act, short for "Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology," was introduced in March by Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginal and Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota.
The act has the support of 13 Republican co-sponsors and the White House. Some lawmakers supporting a TikTok ban fear the RESTRICT Act is too harsh. This bill differs from other bans in that it gives the executive branch the decision to ban or not to ban. In addition, the act hands the Commerce Department the authority to identify and block transactions involving foreign adversaries.
Those opposed say that by not mandating a ban, the bill doesn't go far enough but still gives too much power to the White House. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization, echoes this sentiment and argues the bill would give the executive branch the far-reaching authority to ban information and communications technology with little to no involvement from Congress.
In March, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley tried forcing a Senate vote on legislation banning TikTok from operating within the United States. The bill would prohibit U.S. transactions with TikTok's parent company, ByteDance LTD, within 30 days. However, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul blocked the motion because he believed it violated the right to free speech. He argued a total ban would be a "national strategy to permanently lose elections for a generation."
According to David Kennedy, a former government intelligence officer who now runs the cybersecurity company TrustedSec, restricting TikTok access on government-issued devices is reasonable, but a nationwide ban could be too extreme. "We have Tesla in China, we have Microsoft in China, we have Apple in China. Are they going to start banning us now?" Kennedy said, "It could escalate very quickly."
While Montana's action may influence other states to ban TikTok, state bans will be difficult to enforce. Any potential nationwide TikTok ban has a lot of hoops (and opposition) to jump through before we feel its impact.
Up-and-coming social media app Lemon8 and video editing tool CapCut fall under the ByteDance umbrella. Because the RESTRICT Act is so broad, it puts any technology service owned by a foreign adversary at risk. Some proposed legislation calls explicitly out ByteDance transactions. If a total TikTok ban becomes a reality, it will likely include all associated platforms.
The best thing creators and brands can do at this point is to keep on keeping on.
Don't drop TikTok or drop your recently invigorated Lemon8 strategy. Keep making great content and growing your audiences on the platforms. Prioritize authentic, genuine connections to cultivate loyalty. If you have to abandon ship eventually, a loyal audience will follow you wherever you take your content.
In the meantime, please make the most of your short-form video content by repurposing it across all the relevant platforms (i.e., Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, Pinterest Idea Pins). YouTube is investing heavily in Shorts this year, likely boosting growth. In addition, building an audience on multiple platforms can also act as your safety net in case TikTok ever goes dark.